This book is a work of nonfiction. No scenes or characters have been invented. No names have been changed. The dialogue that appears in quotation marks is based either on recordings from the rescue, or, more often, the recollections of one or both of the people involved in the conversation. Thoughts attributed to individuals are based upon what that person later told me he or she was thinking at the time.
Throughout the book, I relied heavily on Coast Guard records from the rescue. There were several hours of audio recorded of the back-and-forth between the Communications Station in Kodiak and the Alaska Ranger. I also gained access to detailed search and rescue logs from the case, as well as written statements from many of the rescuers that were produced soon after the disaster. The joint Coast Guard/National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Marine Board of Investigation that followed the accident questioned dozens of people, and I occasionally relied on the transcripts of those interviews, as well as on other background documentation collected by the Marine Board. However, the vast majority of the scenes in this book are re-created from my own interviews with the survivors and rescuers involved in the case.
In some places, there were discrepancies in people’s memories, particularly about the order of events and the passage of time between events. In those cases, I have tried to sort out the best truth I could determine. The fact remains that Deadliest Sea is a re-creation of an extremely stressful and chaotic event. There were forty-seven people on board the sinking ship, and dozens more people who played an important role in the subsequent rescue. Each of those individuals has his or her own story, filled with many details that I have neglected to recount here.
Following is a chapter-by-chapter explanation of sources.
All of the communication between Coast Guard watchstander David Seidl and the Alaska Ranger is from audio recordings kept by COMMSTA Kodiak. I transcribed these recordings myself, and later compared my own transcriptions against those prepared by NTSB investigator Liam LaRue.
David Seidl submitted to repeated questioning and indulged my request to re-create the drive from his home in Kodiak to his Communications Station workplace. David’s supervisor, Adam Conners, operations officer Phillip Jordinelli and others at the Communications Station were also generous with answering many questions about the role of the facility.
Kodiak was the third most profitable U.S. fishing port in 2008, a rank that has remained consistent for several years. Each year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is part of the Department of Commerce, collects catch and profit data related to commercial fishing and makes that data available and sortable on its Web site at www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/st1/commercial/index.html.
Air Station Captain Andrew Berghorn, Public Affairs Specialist Kurt Fredrickson, and countless others in Kodiak provided helpful background information about the Coast Guard presence on the island—and throughout Alaska. National Marine Fisheries Service administrator Rob Swanson, who worked for years as a fisheries observer, also offered local insight and arranged a tour of one of Kodiak’s fish-processing plants.
In Dutch Harbor, Charlie Medlicott and Christina Craemer provided invaluable local insight, as well as tour guide services. Brian Dixon, Paul Wilkins, Michelle McNeill, and Pastor Daniel Wilcox also each generously spent time talking with me about the Dutch Harbor community and/or fishing industry.
The Dutch Harbor fishing statistics are from NOAA data. New Bedford, Massachusetts, beats Dutch Harbor in terms of the total value of its catch (due mostly to the high price paid for East Coast shellfish), though in terms of total poundage harvested annually, Dutch Harbor is by far the most productive of any U.S. port.
Life on the Alaska Ranger was described in great detail by Eric Haynes, Evan Holmes, Jeremy Freitag, David Hull, Ryan Shuck, Kenny Smith, Alex Olivarez, Paul Munoz, Richard Reimers, and Julio Morales, among others. Further description of fishing practices came from the instructors at the Observer Training Center in Anchorage. The book Ocean Treasures: Commercial Fishing in Alaska (Alaska Sea Grant, 2003) also provided a helpful cross-check to information supplied directly by the fishermen.
The scenes involving former Alaska Ranger Captain Steve Slotvig are based on observations by the crew members mentioned above, particularly Jeremy Freitag, Ryan Shuck, and Kenny Smith, and by Marine Board testimony, including Slotvig’s own. Under questioning from the Marine Board, Slotvig denied that it was the fight about ice that led him to leave the ship and said he could not recall the incident when others saw fish master Satoshi Konno spit at him.
Former Alaska Ranger Captain Richard Canty, now a tugboat captain who lives in Maine, also shared his experiences with the boat and FCA company culture.
A series of newspaper articles written by Seattle Times investigative journalist Hal Bernton provides further context on the Japanese influence on FCA vessels. Those articles can be accessed at http://www.seattletimes.com.
Friends and family of both Pete Jacobsen and David Silveira, as well as Captain Scott Krey and a number of crew on the Alaska Ranger, all confirmed that neither man was happy to be assigned to the ship.
The C-130’s role in the Alaska Ranger case was recounted by the two plane pilots, Lieutenant Commander Matt Duben and Lieutenant Tommy Wallin, and by Navigator Charles Helms.
The progression of flooding and preparation to abandon ship is based on interviews with Evan Holmes, Eric Haynes, Julio Morales, and Jeremy Freitag, as well as Marine Board testimony from each of those men and from Chris Cossich and Rodney Lundy.
The descriptions of Pete Jacobsen’s history are from interviews with crew members, as well as with his daughter Karen Jacobsen, his brother, Billy Jacobsen, his niece, Jennifer Jacobsen, and his late wife, Patricia Jacobsen, who passed away in early 2009.
Coast Guard HH-60 Jayhawk pilots Lieutenant Commander Brian McLaughlin, Lieutenant Steve Bonn, Commander Shawn Tripp, and Lieutenant Commander Zach Koehler all patiently recalled their March 2008 deployment to St. Paul, as did flight mechanic Rob DeBolt and rescue swimmer O’Brien Starr-Hollow. In the winter of 2009, I visited the LORAN station and gleaned additional insight from the men on that deployment, among them Commander Robert Gaudet, Lieutenant Chris Carter, flight mechanic Keith Bastman, and rescue swimmer Alex Major. Commanding Officer Steven Pfister and Chief Jennifer Shafer were also helpful, as were so many more of the 2009 LORAN staff and Kodiak aircrew members.
Discovery Channel producers Rosie Sharkey and Kyle Wheeler provided additional insight about winter on St. Paul, as well as friendly chauffer service between the LORAN station and the village.
Lieutenant Commander Michael “Scott” Jackson tracked down some hard-to-find information about the history of Coast Guard predeployment to St. Paul, which began in 1997.
The statistics about the dangers of commercial fishing come from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). More information is available at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/fishing/. The crab-specific statistics were pulled from “Improving Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Through Collaboration,” written by Chris Woodley, Jennifer Lincoln, and Charlie Medlicott and published in the spring 2009 edition of the Coast Guard Journal Proceedings.
Aquilina “Debbie” Lestenkof of the Ecosystem Conservation Office of the Tribal Government on St. Paul provided perspective on the history of the island and life there today. Marine mammal researcher Andrew Trites, of the University of British Columbia, offered further scientific insight about the population of northern fur seals in the Pribilofs.
Public affairs staff members Natalie Granger, Angela Hirsch, and Ryan White at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C., were helpful in tracking down general Coast Guard statistics and historical facts, including those about the Coast Guard’s role during Hurricane Katrina and the number of Academy graduates now active in the Coast Guard.
The spring 2008 crew on board the cutter Munro—including Captain Craig Lloyd, Executive Officer Mike Gatlin, Operations Boss Jimmy Terrell, Chief Luke Cutburth, Operations Specialist Erin Lopez, Corpsman Chuck Weiss, and Junior Officers Paul Windt and Dan Schrader—recounted the details of the Munro’s role in the Alaska Ranger rescue. In late February 2009 Captain Lloyd generously allowed me to ride along during the ship’s Bering Sea patrol. Crew members, including Ops Boss Brad Anderson and Junior Officers Andrew Brown, Ellen Moloi, Francesca Hanna, Caitlin McCabe, and the relentlessly helpful Crystal Hudak, were patient in answering my many questions about the ship, its crew, and its mission.
Coast Guard fishing vessel examiners Chris Woodley, Charlie Medlicott, Ken Lawrenson, and Marty Teachout provided an overview of the Coast Guard’s role in examining commercial fishing boats. Mike Rosecrans and Richard Hiscock provided expertise on the political and legislative history and directed me to a number of written sources, including Hiscock’s 2000 paper “Fishing Vessel Safety in the United States: The Tragedy of Missed Opportunities.” Also helpful were back copies of the Coast Guard’sProceedings magazine; the report “Living to Fish, Dying to Fish,” produced by the Coast Guard’s Fishing Vessel Casualty Task Force in 1999; records from recent Congressional testimony about safety in the fishing industry; and Chris Woodley’s 2000 graduate thesis, “Developing Regional Strategies in Fishing Vessel Safety: Integrating Fishing Vessel Safety and Fishery Resource Management.”
Peggy Barry kindly recounted the painful details of her son’s death, as well as her family’s triumph in pushing for increased safety standards on board commercial fishing vessels. She also shared many years’ worth of newspaper clippings. The Coast Guard’s library file on the Western Sea sinking was a source of additional documentation, including the Coast Guard’s investigative report on the casualty, Alaskan police reports related to the incident, and autopsy results on Peter Barry and Western Sea captain Jerald Bouchard.
The decline in fishing deaths since the implementation of the Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act in 1991 is documented by NIOSH and in the comprehensive Coast Guard report “Analysis of Fishing Vessel Casualties: A Review of Lost Fishing Vessels and Crew Fatalities, 1992–2007.”
Charlie Medlicott and Chris Woodley recounted their memories of the Big Valley sinking. Details of the boat’s loading condition were taken from the Coast Guard’s informal investigative report into the incident, which includes search and rescue records from the case, and from related documents prepared by the ship’s marine architect and obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Leslie Hughes of the North Pacific Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association (NPFVOA) provided the 85 percent statistic for the amount of Alaskan fish caught by Washington boats. That percentage was confirmed by the Seattle environmental group Natural Resource Consultants. NPFVOA also runs the safety training programs where FCA sent some of their crew members. Hughes helpfully described some of the historic safety problems in the fishing fleet and changes in safety attitudes over the years. Jerry Dzugan, director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA), provided additional perspective that helped to inform the safety descriptions in this chapter and throughout the book.
Coast Guard Commander Chris Woodley provided many of ACSA’s founding documents. Further description of the program in its current form is available at http://homeport.uscg.mil/mycg/portal/ep/contentDetailView.do?BV_&contentType=EDITORIAL&contentId=99696.
The accounts of the Arctic Rose and Galaxy tragedies are based on interviews with Coast Guard fishing vessel inspectors and on the Coast Guard reports on the casualties. There was a Marine Board of Investigation for the Arctic Rose. That 134-page document is available at http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/docs/boards/Arctic%20Rose%20.pdf. Coast Guard personnel, as well as several NMFS fisheries observers, described the Arctic Rose as a ship with a poor reputation. The book 58 Degrees North by Hugo Kugiya (Bloomsbury, 2005) recounts the boat’s disappearance and the Coast Guard’s extended investigation.
The Coast Guard’s similarly in-depth investigative report into the Galaxy fire can be accessed at http://marinecasualty.com/documents/gal.pdf.
There were a number of discrepancies in individuals’ memories of the order of events during the Alaska Ranger abandon ship efforts, particularly about the ship’s losing power, shifting into reverse, and listing to starboard. I believe the most likely order is this one (and the NTSB’s report drew the same conclusion) though many people did not notice the shift into reverse until after the list, and others did not notice it at all. Several people, including David Hull, described a large wave that pulled the fishing net off the deck. Others thought it was simply the rising water that sucked the net off the ship.
Gwen Rains, Jayson Vallee, Christina Craemer, and Beth Dubofsky all told me about their experiences on FCA boats. NOAA fishery biologist and observer program administrator Martin Loafflad smoothed the way for me to sit in on the December 2008 training for new observers in Anchorage, where Mike Vechter and Dennis Moore provided an excellent overview of Alaskan fisheries and the job of fisheries observer. Amanda Saxton, Peter Risse, Rob Swanson, and Brian Dixon provided additional insight into the observer training requirements and the lifestyle of the typical fisheries observer.
The actions of Indio Sol and Chris Cossich are based on their own Marine Board testimony, and on the recollections of other men on the boat. Neither Sol nor Cossich responded to requests for interviews. The Joshua Esa scene is written from the perspective of Eric Haynes. The scene with Evan Holmes and P. Ton is written from Evan’s perspective.
The Coast Guard’s investigative report on the Alaska 1 sinking was obtained through FOIA. Head investigator Alan Blume, now retired from the Coast Guard, provided additional insight and clarification after I reviewed his report.
Charlie Medlicott was one of the inspectors on the Coast Guard’s Alaska Spirit investigation. The NTSB also investigated that incident, and I drew details from the agency’s report, which is at http://www.ntsb.gov/Publictn/1996/mar9601.pdf.
I relied on the expertise of hypothermia and cold-water survival experts Dr. Martin Nemiroff and Dr. Alan Steinman, as well as on the fifth edition of the textbook Wilderness Medicine (Mosby, 2007). Both the Coast Guard and the National Marine Fisheries Service use the 1-10-1 rule in their training, and I drew on written training materials from the two groups. The “skinfold thickness” study is described in more detail on page 170 of Wilderness Medicine, in a chapter coauthored by Dr. Steinman.
Coast Guard Public Affairs Specialist Sara Francis shared her own memories of the Selendang Ayu crash, and I referred to Coast Guard press releases from the time. Several Coast Guard pilots described their “dunker” training. Navy Commander Mike Prevost, Lieutenant Commander Ellis Gayles, and Lieutenant John Mahoney at Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California, answered questions about the dunker training and allowed me to sit in on the two-day refresher course that every aircrew member periodically attends.
Master Chief Dave Hoover, Master Chief Clay Hill, Chief John Hall, Chief Doug Lathrop, and Petty Officer Dustin Skarra provided expertise on the Coast Guard’s rescue swimmer program. Swimmers Wil Milam, Alex Major, Chuck Falante, and the entire November 10–15, 2008, class at the Advanced Helicopter Rescue School in Astoria, Oregon, shared additional insight into the training and mentality required to be an AST. Two books written by former Coasties further helped to inform my understanding of the job of rescue swimmer: Brotherhood of the Fin by Gerald R. Hoover (Wheatmark, 2007) and So Others May Live by Martha J. LaGuardia-Kotite (The Lyons Press, 2006).
The radio exchange between the 60 Jayhawk and the C-130 recounted at the end of the chapter is from an audio recording that was made by Alaska Warrior Chief Engineer Ed Cook. Ed was in the Warrior’s wheelhouse at the time, where the crew was able to overhear the exchange between the two Coast Guard aircraft on the ship’s radio.
Background information on the Alaska Warrior and the ship’s role in the rescue are based on interviews with Scott Krey and Ed Cook, and on the Marine Board testimony of FCA officers Scott Krey, Raymond Falante, Albert Larson, and Bill McGill. The descriptions of the Warrior’s poor repair are exclusively from Ed Cook, who shared photographs and videos from his time on the ship.
The radio exchange between Jayhawk pilot Brian McLaughlin and Warrior Captain Scott Krey is also from the audio recording made by Ed Cook.
The crew of the 65 Dolphin, Lieutenant Commander TJ Schmitz, Lieutenant Greg Gedemer, flight mechanic Al Musgrave, and rescue swimmer Abram Heller, each described their deployment on the cutter Munro, as well as the play-by-play of the rescue. Each man wrote his own statement about the events of the rescue soon after the case. I relied on those documents, as well as subsequent interviews, to re-create Byron Carrillo’s fall from the basket. The perspective of Alaska Ranger engineer Jim Madruga was also valuable. Like rescue swimmer Heller, Madruga saw Byron Carrillo rise, apparently safe inside the basket, and did not realize there was a problem until he was inside the helo himself.
To lose a survivor from a rescue basket during a hoist is an extremely unusual occurrence in the Coast Guard. I asked a number of veteran rescuers if they had ever heard of it happening before, and identified only one other incident, also in Alaska, in 1998. In that case, a rescue of crew from a sunken fishing boat called the La Conte, the weather was more treacherous than in the Alaska Ranger case, and the rescue swimmer was not deployed. The flight mechanic lowered the rescue basket to the water and two men attempted to climb in together. One of them never got fully inside and fell to his death as the basket reached the helicopter. Two books were written about this sinking and both recount the incident: The Last Run by Todd Lewan (HarperCollins, 2004), andComing Back Alive by Spike Walker (St. Martins Press, 2001).
In addition to the survivors’ own accounts of their medical care on the Munro, Corpsmen Chuck Weiss and Blake Mitchell Castillo, and Petty Officer Kelly Stearns detailed the crew’s preparations to receive survivors.
In addition to my interviews with Eric Haynes and his Marine Board testimony, I had the benefit of Eric’s own detailed and descriptive ten-page statement titled “Recollections of the Sinking of the Alaska Ranger.”
Much of the dialogue in the Warrior’s wheelhouse, including the rescued crew members’ explanations of what happened to the Alaska Ranger, is transcribed from Ed Cook’s personal recording.
The actions of Samasoni Fa’aulu and Mark Hagerman are as recounted by Julio Morales, Abram Heller, and the rest of the Jayhawk crew. I was unable to contact either Fa’aulu or Hagerman, and neither was called to testify before the Marine Board.
The rescue swimmers did not attempt CPR on David Silveira after he was pulled into the Jayhawk because at the time they believed there were still additional people to rescue. For the previous couple of hours, they’d been pulling people out of the water one after the other, and the expectation was that that pace would continue. Technically, Coast Guard rescuers are not required to commence CPR if they are more than an hour from advanced care, or if the victim has obvious physical signs that he or she has been deceased for a long period of time. When brought into the helicopter, Silveira was exhibiting early signs of rigor mortis, evidence that it was too late to help him. In retrospect, however, both rescue swimmers felt some regret that they had not attempted CPR on the fisherman.
Jennifer Lubrani and Dr. Jeffrey Pellegrino of the American Red Cross provided additional perspective on CPR standards and methods.
Paul Webb, a civilian search and rescue expert in Juneau, demonstrated the Coast Guard’s modeling program and explained the factors that play into long-term survival in Alaskan waters. Chief of Response Mike Inman, Chief of Incident Management Todd Trimpert, and watch standers Mike Glinksi, Jeremy Dawkins, and Nate Johnson in Juneau recounted the role District Command played in coordinating the rescue, including the recognition of the miscount. Public Affairs Officer Eric Eggen helped to coordinate my visit. Admiral Gene Brooks provided appreciated insight into the unique scope and challenge of the Alaska Ranger rescue.
Ryan Shuck’s girlfriend, Kami Ottmar, shared the e-mail she received at her apartment in Spokane, Washington, on the evening of March 23, 2008.
Coast Guard Public Affairs Specialist Sara Francis wrote a series of wonderfully clear and detailed press releases about the first days of the Marine Board hearings into the Alaska Ranger case. Meagan Krupa attended the Anchorage hearing on my behalf and took copious notes. I attended most of the Seattle hearings myself, and later acquired transcripts of all of the Marine Board’s interviews.
Brian McLaughlin kindly agreed to allow me to reprint his e-mail to Jimmy Terrell, which was first forwarded to me by Captain Craig Lloyd.
Jennifer Lincoln provided a copy of a document titled “Alaska Ranger Investigation Survival Factors,” which summarized the findings from her early interviews with the crew members.
Coast Guard Marine Architects Brian Thomas and Steven McGee explained the stability factors that led to the loss of the Ranger in much greater detail than is relayed in this book. Their detailed report, as well as numerous other documents relevant to the Marine Board’s investigation can be accessed at http://www.ntsb.gov/Dockets/Marine/DCA08MM015/default.htm.
The NTSB’s full eighty-three-page report on the disaster can be downloaded at http://www.ntsb.gov/Publictn/2009/MAR0905.pdf.
The Coast Guard issued two Marine Safety Alerts in reaction to the loss of the Alaska Ranger. The first, on “Maintaining Vessel Watertight Integrity” can be viewed at http://www.uscg.mil/d9/msuchicago/docs/Safety%20Alert%201%2008.pdf.
The second, “Controllable Pitch Propeller Systems and Situational Awareness,” is at http://www.marineexchangesea.com/AlertsAndBulletins/03-08%20re%20Controllable%20Pitch%20Propeller%20Systems%20….pdf.
As of early March 2010, the Coast Guard had still not released its own Marine Board report on the incident.