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Coast Guard Suspends Search For 5 Missing Fishermen In Waters West Of Kodiak

Gerry Cobban Knagin

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search on Wednesday evening for five people feared lost after their 130-foot fishing boat sank on New Year's Eve near Sutwik Island, off the Alaska Peninsula. 

The Coast Guard rescued two people and have suspended the search for the rest of the F/V Scandies Rose's seven-person crew. 

The search spanned over 20 hours, 1,400 square miles, and included four MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews, two HC-130 Hercules airplane crews, and the Coast Guard Cutter Mellon.

Rear Adm. Matthew Bell, 17th District Commander, said Wednesday evening that after exhausting all leads and careful consideration of survival probability, the Coast Guard decided to suspend its active search pending new information or developments. 

"The decision to suspend an active search and rescue case is never easy, and it's only made after careful consideration of a myriad of factors," said Bell. "Our deepest condolences to the friends and families impacted by this tragedy."

Rescuers on scene said the elements were against them: 40 mph winds, well-below-freezing temperatures, and high seas as they searched for the boat and crew.

Petty officer Evan Grills is the rescue swimmer who rescued two crew members from a life raft.

"When we were down there, it was pretty wild," said Grills. "It was 20-30 foot seas, and tremendously cold, so the dexterity in my hands was starting to go. And just trying to battle keeping situational awareness between the helicopter, table management, keeping the survivor's face out of the water, and making sure we both didn't get tumbled in was definitely challenging."

Coast Guard spokeswoman Melissa McKenzie said the pair that was rescued at about 2 a.m. New Year's Day were wearing gumby survival suits. 

"When our helicopter crew arrived on scene, they found two life rafts in the search area," said McKenzie. "One had two survivors [in it] and the other one was empty."

The 34 and 36-year-old survivors reportedly had spent four hours in the life raft. They were hypothermic and admitted into a Kodiak hospital but had no other injuries. 

Lt. Jon Ardan, co-pilot on the MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, said the life raft was within 10 miles of the Scandies Rose's last known position. No wreckage or debris had been found as of Wednesday evening.

"We landed back in Kodiak with not a lot of fuel, so we didn't have very much time to search for additional survivors, or even to search for the [two we rescued]," said Ardan. "So it was truly a miracle that we found them so expeditiously, that we were able to pick them up without incident, and that we started making our way back home with a good tailwind to push us."

The Coast Guard has not determined the cause of the incident off the Alaska Peninsula, about 170 miles west of Kodiak Island. 

The Scandies Rose is homeported in Dutch Harbor. Its website describes the 41-year-old ship as a steel-hulled crabbing vessel that works in a number of fisheries, including as a summer salmon tender in Southeast Alaska and Bristol Bay.

Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
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