The Final Search

Julio Morales had never been inside a helicopter before. From his seat on the cold metal floor, he couldn’t see much of anything outside the cabin. His sweatpants and sweatshirt were wet underneath his torn survival suit. And he couldn’t stop shaking. His whole body was so numb he was sure he wouldn’t feel the knife if someone stabbed him in the leg.

Julio had been the last of the three in the raft to be pulled up to the Jayhawk. The rescue swimmer sent Sam up first. Mark went next. Then Julio had climbed into the basket, making sure his arms and head stayed inside, like the swimmer instructed. The ride had been fast. Julio couldn’t wait to get out of the basket. As soon as it was pulled into the cabin and tilted on its side, he crawled right out and found a spot next to Sam.

Once all of them were inside the chopper, the big Samoan man peeled off his survival suit’s red hood, freeing a huge, springy afro. One of the pilots had to tell Sam to move; his hair was obstructing their view. It was kind of funny, actually. For the first time, Julio felt like everything was going to be okay.

The pilots had spotted another strobe light as they were hovering over the Dolphin’s life raft. Once Abe Heller was safely in the cabin, they taxied straight to the light. The person was in a survival suit and floating faceup in the water, the attached strobe flickering on and off amid the waves. They settled forty feet overhead. This fisherman, the pilots saw, wasn’t waving up at them like most of the others had.

Julio couldn’t hear what the pilots were saying over the roar of the rotors, but he could tell they weren’t leaving yet. They were still looking. Julio could see flashes of ocean outside the open aircraft door. It was still dark, but he knew morning would be there soon. Julio watched as Jayhawk rescue swimmer O’Brien Starr-Hollow clipped his harness into the end of the hoist cable. What’s he doing? Julio wondered. The rescuer wasn’t bringing the basket with him.

The helo crew wanted to move quickly, so they used the rescue strop instead of the basket. As Bonn held the aircraft steady over the fisherman, McLaughlin once again called out the size and frequency of the swells for flight mechanic Rob DeBolt. They were still dealing with huge waves that made it difficult to keep a constant eye on objects in the ocean beneath them.

As soon as Starr-Hollow swung out of the helo, McLaughlin glanced over his left shoulder. The Alaska Warrior was headed right at them—and bearing down fast.

The big black boat was shockingly close, its bow pitching in the seas. The top of the Warrior’s massive gantry was at about the same height as the aircraft.

Jesus, McLaughlin, thought. They don’t see us.

The Jayhawk was sixty-five feet from head to tail—almost a third the length of the ship. Still, in these weather conditions, the helo might be hard to spot. And, most likely, everyone on that boat had their eyes glued to the surface of the water. They would be scanning the swells for bodies—just like the aircrew had been doing minutes before. No one was standing watch for obstacles in the air.

McLaughlin grabbed the radio.

Alaska Warrior! You’re headed right for us!” he yelled.

With the swimmer already out the cabin door and a man in the water below, it wasn’t an easy option to just fly the aircraft out of the way.

McLaughlin kept watching the ship, waiting for it to turn. Within a couple of long seconds, it swerved out of the way of the hovering helicopter.

The pilot exhaled. Thank God, he thought. A massive ship like the Warrior could have knocked his aircraft right out of the sky.

IN THE BACK OF THE CABIN, Julio was oblivious to the near collision with the Warrior. His eyes were on the flight mechanic kneeling at the open door. Just a couple minutes after the swimmer descended out of sight, Julio saw the top of his yellow helmet rise back above the floor of the chopper. He had a man secured in a harness in front of him. It took only a few seconds before the swimmer was back in the cabin, but there was a struggle to pull the fisherman fully inside. DeBolt, Starr-Hollow, and Heller were all at the open door, trying to maneuver the guy into the helicopter. The man was lifeless, his legs hanging down below the floor of the helo. Finally, the swimmer reached out with a knife, and made two big slits through the shins of the man’s survival suit to drain out the water.

Julio stared as the large man was pulled through the opening and laid down on the slick, wet floor of the cabin. There were ice crystals on his face. Oh shit, Julio thought. He looked at the frozen mustache, the glazed-over eyes. The man had foam at his mouth. His skin looked blue. He was dead, Julio knew it.

It was the first mate, David Silveira. Julio and the other fishermen knew him as “Captain David.”

The three rescued crewmen were quiet. They looked at the body.

Julio thought about his conversations with the mate in his first weeks on the ship. He had told the older man about his experience as a marine electrician back in Long Beach, California. David was from California, too—San Diego—and also from a big Catholic family. He had been encouraging and had even offered to help Julio find a full-time job as an electrician in Dutch Harbor.

Julio had liked the idea of it. So far, he loved Alaska. Maybe he could make a life for himself on the island. David had been kind to him. He was a boss on the boat, but he’d acted like he really cared about a new guy like Julio. It was terrible, seeing him like this.

Julio was relieved when one of the Coast Guard crew pulled a blanket over David’s face.

UP FRONT, THE PILOTS WERE STILL STUDYING the waves below for signs of life. By their count, three people were still missing. They knew the Warrior had already recovered twenty-two people from two life rafts. The pilots saw one of the tented rafts bobbing in the waves. They swooped down to thirty feet to get a good look inside the open door, but the raft was empty. Soon after they found two more. Same thing. There were no more lights in the sea. They looked for red survival suits. Nothing.

The big guy with the afro, Sam, was still in pretty bad shape. Abe Heller had informed the Jayhawk crew that another one of the rescued men, Mark Hagerman, had diabetes. Heller wasn’t doing too well himself. The Jayhawk crew could tell the Dolphin’s swimmer would be fine, but he was obviously cold and had been puking in the back of the helo. McLaughlin and Bonn decided it was best to get everyone back to the ship as soon as possible.

Daylight broke at 9:07 A.M. But as the orange-and-white-striped chopper skimmed over the Bering Sea, the horizon brightened only from black to gray. There was no sun in sight. The men took off their night vision goggles and squinted into the continuing snow squalls as the helo hurtled north toward the Coast Guard cutter.

DOWN ON THE MUNRO’S MESS DECK, “Doc” Chuck Weiss’s crew was running on adrenaline. It was almost 9:30 A.M. Most of the Coasties had been up since shortly after 3:00 A.M. They hadn’t felt hungry as they waited the long hours for the first survivors, but Weiss had encouraged them to eat. Now they were thankful for the eggs, toast, cereal, and fruit they’d shoveled in hours before.

Finally, they got the word: The 60 Jayhawk was en route to the ship with four survivors on board. One was in critical condition. The smaller 65 Dolphin had just taken off from the flight deck a few minutes before—without a swimmer. The deck was clear for the 60 to lower the new survivors. As the larger helo came into a hover above the flight deck for a second time, Weiss’s crew was ready.

Meanwhile, deep inside the ship, the first fishermen to be rescued had settled into one of the Munro’s TV lounges. The rec deck was designed like a mini movie theater, with a dozen cushioned, reclining seats arranged on tiers like in a high-end cinema. In front was a flat-screen TV. A couple of the men had picked The Guardian from the ship’s collection of DVDs. The 2006 film stars Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Costner as Coast Guard rescue swimmers. A few guys had been talking about the movie as they stood on the deck of the sinking Ranger just hours before. Now it was almost like they’d lived it. Of course there’d been a copy on board the Munro.

The TVs in the Munro’s lounges could also be set to the real-time video camera on the flight deck. At 9:40 A.M., three hours after the first and largest group of Ranger crewmen had been lowered to the cutter, the rescued fishermen heard the piped announcement that the 60 Jayhawk was about to lower more survivors to the ship. They turned the station to the grainy black-and-white image of the Munro’s stern. The rescued fishermen clapped when they saw Sam being led across the ship’s deck. There was no mistaking that giant afro.

Julio Morales landed on the flight deck in the basket next and was immediately surrounded. He stood up, and the water inside his oversized suit drained to his feet. The Munro crew carried him across the deck, the waterlogged legs of his Gumby suit dragging along behind.

Julio was shivering uncontrollably. He was still being stripped out of his suit and wrapped with hot towels as David Silveira was lowered from the open door of the Jayhawk. The mate was delivered in a seated position, his upper body slumped over his legs inside the basket. Several of the Munro’s crew struggled to carry Silveira to the starboard side of the flight deck, where he was transferred to a litter, then brought into the vestibule at the rear of the hangar, where Weiss and a team of EMTs were waiting.

The Munro’s crew didn’t know what kind of emergency care Silveira had received on the helo, or exactly how long he’d been out of the water. They’d just been told that his condition was critical. They laid the litter on the vestibule floor and checked for a pulse. There was none. Water sloshed out onto the floor as they sliced into Silveira’s survival suit. Weiss saw sea foam drool from the man’s mouth. His eyes were glassy. He looked dead.

Weiss had received his Coast Guard medical training in Petaluma, California, where he was instructed by Dr. Martin Nemiroff—the Coast Guard’s Mr. Miyagi of hypothermia and near drowning. Weiss and his classmates had been lectured on the possibilities for resuscitating cold-water drowning victims. Nemiroff had recounted stories of individuals who had been submerged for a full hour in cold, clean water and later revived without brain damage. “Nobody’s dead until they’re warm and dead,” was one of the doctor’s favorite sayings. Nemiroff’s stories sounded like incredible, one-in-a-thousand-type cases. But the doctor’s own research showed that they weren’t as miraculous as they might seem. Over the years, he’d catalogued more than two thousand cold-water deaths or near deaths—many of them from his time with the Coast Guard in Alaska. It sometimes takes a full hour of CPR, Nemiroff told the students, but half of the time cold-water drowning victims can be successfully revived.

“Doc” Weiss found Nemiroff’s stories powerful—and convincing. Just because the man in front of him now didn’t have a pulse or any other signs of life, didn’t mean there was no hope, Weiss concluded. His job was to do everything he could to bring the man back.

Weiss brushed away the sea foam from Silveira’s face and placed a sanitary mouth guard used for CPR over the mate’s lips. He gave Silveira two breaths and then a crew member linked her fingers together, placed her palms flat just below Silveira’s sternum, locked her elbows straight, and began the first of a set of thirty compressions. Silveira was a large man with a broad chest. Weiss estimated he weighed close to 200 pounds. The Munro’s doc had never needed to give CPR in a real emergency before, and Silveira was much bigger than the dummies used in training classes. Weiss was surprised by how much energy it took. They needed to get a good two-inch compression with each pump and keep the speed up—the recommended rate was one hundred compressions a minute. The effort required was almost like doing thirty high-speed push-ups, then another thirty, and another. Every few minutes, the person on compressions had to swap out.

They went through five cycles of two breaths and thirty pumps. Then they checked again for a pulse. Nothing. A crew member brought the ship’s automated external defibrillator, and they placed it on the fisherman’s bare chest. The device listens for a pulse that may be too faint for rescuers to detect and administers an electric shock when a sign of life is identified. But there was nothing to detect. “Continue CPR” the recorded voice on the defibrillator instructed. Two breaths. Thirty thrusts. Again and again, Weiss’s team kept at it.

AS THE MUNRO’S MEDICS ATTENDED TO the new group of fishermen, Dolphin rescue swimmer Abe Heller was on the mess deck warming up with a hot drink. He was feeling better. He’d stopped shivering and had washed the taste of vomit from his mouth. Heller thought that after a few more minutes he’d be good to go out again if needed.

Dolphin pilot TJ Schmitz had a different idea. From the air, the Jayhawk pilots had passed on the news that Schmitz’s swimmer, Heller, who’d stayed behind in the raft, was fairly hypothermic. Schmitz thought that maybe his aircraft could come back to the ship and get Jayhawk swimmer O’Brien Starr-Hollow instead. Starr-Hollow was eager to go. There were still people who were unaccounted for in the sea. They could have spent longer searching the scene, the swimmer thought. Plus, it was pretty amazing to get the chance to work out of two different airframes during the same rescue. Starr-Hollow had never heard of it happening before.

After the last fisherman had been loaded out of the helicopter, Starr-Hollow, too, was sent down on the hoist line. The Jayhawk flew off to the side of the ship as the Dolphin came back into view and landed once again on the Munro’s flight deck. With the rotors still running, Starr-Hollow ran to the open door and climbed inside, and the Dolphin took off. Then the Jayhawk came back into a hover—and DeBolt sent the cable down for the HIFR hose. This time, they’d get a full load of fuel.

It was just about 10:00 A.M. when the larger helicopter began in-flight refueling. At 10:15 A.M., the Jayhawk crew overheard the Munro order the Dolphin back to the ship: The search was over. The Warrior had recovered the final three Alaska Rangercrew members—all of them deceased. Now all forty-seven people were accounted for.

At 10:18 A.M. the Jayhawk’s fuel tanks were full. When the Dolphin arrived back at the ship, a game of musical chairs commenced like no one had ever played before. As McLaughlin and Bonn flew the Jayhawk alongside the cutter, the Dolphin hovered over the flight deck and lowered rescue swimmer O’Brien Starr-Hollow to the ship. It was too dangerous for the Jayhawk crew to hoist their swimmer from the ship with the smaller helicopter perched on the flight deck, and the larger helo didn’t want to spend time and fuel waiting for the Dolphin to be shut down and moved into the hangar. Instead, the smaller aircraft remained airborne.

After Starr-Hollow was safely on deck, the 65 crew pulled the little red helicopter away from the boat, and then the 60 Jayhawk came into a hover over the lurching flight deck for a final time. DeBolt lowered the hoist cable, and Starr-Hollow clipped the hook into his harness. They’d go back to St. Paul together, as a team.

NOT LONG AFTER THE FIRST GROUP of fishermen had been lowered to the cutter, there was a piped announcement that the ship was looking for donations for the rescued men. Coasties filed into the mess deck with spare T-shirts, sweatpants, boat shoes and sneakers. The ship’s store was opened up to the men. They could grab a hat, a sweatshirt, and—best of all for many—free cigarettes. Some of the Munro’s crew gave the fishermen snacks from their own shore-bought stashes. By late morning, most of the first-rescued fishermen were sprawled out deep in the ship, dressed in crew hand-me-downs or brand-new Coast Guard–branded sweats.

As the hours passed, Doc Weiss kept checking in with the fishermen. Kenny Smith was sleeping. It had taken him a couple of hours to be able to move around on his own. Even once he could, he complained of numbness. There were quite a few guys with bruises and some sprains. A few men complained of what sounded to Weiss like swimmer’s ear. But overall, the men were doing remarkably well.

Except for the very last fisherman, David Silveira.

They declared him dead at 11:00 A.M.

After several cycles of CPR on the floor of the cold vestibule behind the hangar, they had moved Silveira into the Munro’s sick bay. They’d treated all the other fishermen on the mess deck, but Weiss didn’t want to upset the Ranger’s crew—or theMunro’s own young seamen—with the sight of someone who was so far gone. From the sick bay, Weiss called the on-duty doctor at the air station in Kodiak. Keep going, the M.D. had encouraged the Munro’s corpsman. It can’t hurt. But when Weiss called back close to an hour later, he was told to stop. Silveira’s core temperature was at 83°F. They’d been trying to resuscitate him for seventy minutes already. It was over.

Weiss helped close Silveira’s body into a green vinyl body bag. The Coasties brought the body to a sheltered spot outside the XO’s cabin and laid it down. Then they assigned a crewman to stand watch over the dead officer.

THROUGHOUT THE RESCUE PROCESS, Combat had been reporting the number of fishermen lowered to the Munro to District Command in Juneau. The last four men—including David Silveira—brought their recorded total up to twenty-two. Just before 11:00 A.M., District called off the search. All forty-seven people who had been on board the Alaska Ranger were accounted for. The cutter Munro had reported twenty-two men—thirteen in the first Jayhawk pickup, five from the Dolphin, and four more recovered by the Jayhawk on that helo’s return to the rescue scene. Meanwhile, there were twenty-five people, including three deceased, on board the Warrior. At 10:57 A.M., District directed the Munro to accompany the Warrior back to Dutch Harbor, where both ships would transfer their survivors to waiting medical personnel.

Soon after the second life raft was unloaded onto the FCA trawler, the rescued Ranger crew were asked to write their names on a sheet of paper, and those names were passed off to District personnel. A few dozen miles to the north, a Coastie on theMunro made a list of names of the Ranger crew on the cutter. Meanwhile, SAR officers in Juneau had been working to get a full list of the Alaska Ranger’s crew from the Fishing Company of Alaska. By noontime, the Juneau Coasties were comparing the lists. They’d recorded that the Munro had twenty-two men, but when they looked at the names, there were only twenty-one. Where was a Japanese crew member named Satoshi Konno? His name didn’t appear on the list supplied by either ship.

It was just after 1:00 P.M. when District informed the ships that Konno was unaccounted for. There’d been a miscount. Though crew on the Munro’s bridge had counted just twelve survivors lowered to the deck in the Jayhawk’s first load, Combat recorded the number they’d heard the helo’s own crew report: thirteen. It was that number that was passed on to Juneau. Now everybody knew that one man was still missing. The Munro was on course toward the Warrior when Captain Lloyd ordered his engineers to make best speed back toward the disaster site.

FOURTEEN HUNDRED MILES AWAY, in the windowless control center at Coast Guard headquarters in downtown Juneau, SAR personnel were gathering information on the missing fisherman—his age, height, weight, and the estimated time he’d been in the Bering Sea—and plugging it into their modeling program. Developed by the Coast Guard specifically to find lost mariners, the computer software uses on-scene weather data, including real-time information about sea currents, to calculate the most probable drift pattern of a person lost at sea and recommend search grids to optimize the chances that a man overboard will be found alive.

Given different variables, the personal data on a lost individual are used to calculate likely survival times. Satoshi Konno was a thin man in his fifties. His age was a disadvantage, and so was his build. By far the fisherman’s worst enemy, though, was time. At the moment the Coasties realized Konno was still missing, the Japanese man had been in the water for at least eight hours. The sea temperature was 36°F.

The Munro made it to the sinking site around 2:00 P.M. with a search plan ready. Crew members were posted at the ship’s rails to scan the seas while the massive cutter methodically traced search lines across several square miles of open ocean.

Dolphin pilots TJ Schmitz and Greg Gedemer were eager to provide more eyes on the waves. But the 65 was grounded. Byron Carrillo’s fall from the basket had been labeled a Class A Mishap, a designation used for an accident that results either in a death, or in total loss of the aircraft. The service’s rules for that classification are strict—neither the aircraft nor the crew could fly again until an investigation was complete.

The Jayhawk crew had been told the search was over and left the Munro just before 11:00 A.M. It took them just over an hour to fly back to St. Paul Island. They landed the aircraft at 12:20 P.M. By the time they pulled the helo into the hangar and drove the snowy mile back to the LORAN Station, the Coasties more than a thousand miles away in Juneau knew something was wrong.

In the pilots’ lounge on St. Paul, the phone rang once again.

There’d been a mistake in the count. One man was still out there.

McLaughlin and his crew had eight and a half hours of flying time on them. If they’d been the only air crew available, their commander could have given them the thumbs-up to go out again. But another crew was on standby. Pilots Shawn Tripp and Zach Koehler would fly the 60 Jayhawk back to the scene.

ON BOARD THE CUTTER MUNRO, the news about the missing man quickly trickled down to the Ranger crew. One of the Coasties was making rounds among the rescued fishermen, asking questions. Had anyone seen Satoshi Konno abandon ship? How about in the water? Did anyone remember what he was wearing?

At first, Julio Morales had no idea who the officers were talking about. “Who’s that?” he asked one of the other fishermen. “Who’s Satoshi Konno?” The name didn’t sound familiar at all.

“The fish master. It’s the fish master,” somebody told him.

Julio had seen the fish master in the wheelhouse before he’d abandoned ship. By that time, most people were already in the ocean. The boat was listing and the water was almost up to the deck surrounding the bridge. While everyone else was running around in their bulky suits trying to figure out how best to get off the ship, the fish master had been sitting quietly inside. He seemed calm and was smoking a cigarette. His suit was unzipped down to his waist. He didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to save his own life.

THE FISHERMEN WERE INVITED TO SEND brief e-mails home. They couldn’t make any phone calls, though. The authorities were still confirming the names of the deceased and working to notify the families. Until then, the crew could only communicate with their own family members by e-mails, which were to be reviewed by the Coast Guard.

Ryan Shuck sat down in one of the Coastie’s bunk rooms to write to his longtime girlfriend, Kami. “The boat went down early this morning,” Ryan typed. “Most of us were rescued by the coast guard they have been great. I’m on a cutter now we’re searching for 1 guy still. I’ll call when I get to dutch. I’m ok don’t worry. Love always ryan.”

The Munro was still tracing search patterns for Konno on Monday morning when Captain Lloyd gathered the Alaska Ranger’s crew together on the mess deck. The captain had a piece of paper in his hands.

“I have the names of the deceased,” he said.

Julio’s cousin Marco had been in the first load of fishermen rescued by the 60 Jayhawk. When Julio reached the ship, Marco was already warmed up and doing fine. Neither man knew what had happened to their other cousin, Byron.

Julio had a bad feeling. But as the captain read the list out loud, he didn’t hear his cousin’s name. It was the ship’s top officers who had died, Julio realized. The captain, the mate, and the chief engineer.

Byron’s okay, Julio thought for a minute. We’re all okay.

But there had been a name on the captain’s list that he didn’t recognize. It sounded like Brian. Julio didn’t remember meeting a Brian on the Ranger. He asked to see the names.

He took the paper in his hands and there it was: Byron Carrillo.

Julio felt like his ears were ringing. He heard himself screaming. “No. No.” The other men were looking at him. Julio was sobbing. Some of the other men had tears in their eyes, too. Julio knew that most of them didn’t really know his cousin. Four days wasn’t long enough to know him, but they’d liked him well enough. He was a pretty friendly guy, a good worker. Now he was the new guy who was dead.

THE ALASKA WARRIOR WAS HEADED BACK to Dutch Harbor. A couple of the other FCA trawlers were searching for Konno near the sinking site. And Captain Scott knew the Coast Guard was out there, completing calculated search patterns with their plane, helicopter, and cutter all scouring the seas hour after hour.

As the Warrior steamed east, Ed Cook went down to the factory, to where the bodies were. The crew had put a white blanket over Captain Pete. Danny was covered with a red one. Ed had watched the CPR attempts on his brother. But there was nothing, no sign of life. Danny had been in the water too long. Ed knew it. His brother’s lungs were full of water. So much water. It had poured out of him when the crew pumped again and again at his huge chest.

Ed peeled the cover back from his brother’s face. Danny had been facedown in the water when they pulled him out. His eyes had been closed. Even in those first few awful minutes, he’d looked like he might just be asleep. Just sleeping, that’s all.

Ed stared at his brother. He looked peaceful. He even had a little smile on his face. His lips were pressed together, closed. That was unusual, Ed thought. His brother was a nonstop talker. Now, for once, he was quiet.

Danny looked enormous under his blanket, especially next to the captain. Ed wrapped his arms around his brother’s body. He kissed him on the cheek, and then on the lips.

“Daniel, I love you,” he said out loud. “I will miss you every day of my life.”

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!