Skipper Rescued After Intentional Grounding Near Sitka

Published Nov 11, 2019 2:14 PM by The Maritime Executive

 On Saturday, a U.S. Coast Guard aircrew out of Air Station Sitka, Alaska rescued a man after he intentionally grounded his wooden fishing vessel to avoid sinking. 

At about 1430 hours Saturday, USCG Sector Juneau received a VHF distress call from a man aboard a small wooden fishing trawler, the Onyx. He reported that his vessel was taking on water, and he said that he was preparing to beach the vessel on Strait Island, a small land feature off Port Protection in Southeast Alaska's Inside Passage. He activated his EPIRB and put on a survival suit before going onto the shore. 

Sector Juneau called for a helicopter launch from Air Station Sitka, and the cutters Anthony Petit and Anacapa diverted to the area. The helicopter crew arrived on scene and spotted the man’s red meteor flare and strobe light. Winds at the time of the hoist were about 35 knots with rainy and misty conditions. 

The aircrew hoisted him safely and brought him back to Sitka. No injuries were reported.

“Considering the cold water and air temperatures, the outcome could have been much worse,” said Lt. Kyle Johnson, co-pilot for the case. “Fortunately, he reported his position and intentions on VHF Channel 16, signaled us with a flare, and wore a strobe light on his survival suit. Because of all this, he was able to keep his body temperature up and we were able to find him.”

Two hoists in one day

It was the second rescue of the day for Air Station Sitka. At about 1100 hours Saturday, Sector Juneau received a cell phone call from a man whose 12-foot Zodiac had capsized near the north end of Shelter Island, just northwest of Juneau. He said that he'd managed to right the boat but could not restart the engine, and he intended to row to shore on Shelter Island. 

The man activated his satellite distress beacon (a non-EPIRB device communicating to a commercially-operated satellite fleet and rescue coordination center) at the time of the capsize, providing a location for rescuers. He was wearing a buoyant anti-exposure suit, which protected him from the elements - increasing his odds of survival in freezing conditions and winds gusting to 40 knots. 

Sector Juneau dispatched a small boat crew out of Station Juneau and called for a helicopter launch from Air Station Sitka. The helicopter crew located the man on the shore of Shelter Island and hoisted him safely aboard. 

 “Fortunately the individual was wearing an anti-exposure suit, and was equipped with an inReach device and a cell phone to notify us of his location," said Petty Officer Brian Wells, Sector Juneau command center watchstander. “All of these factors contributed to his survival despite the adverse weather conditions.”