Sunday, January 28, 2007

The loss of Ocean Challenger

There is a saying that goes something like “all news is local!” which is certainly true. In this era of internet, one would expect that important news can also made global rapidly. I have been relying on the Google Alert to hear about freaque wave occurrences around the world. But this news of October 2006 on the loss of commercial fishing vessel Ocean Challenger in the Aleutian Islands area somehow missed by Google Alert. I came across this case this weekend from this North Pacific blog and this Forum, and this news article of Anchorage Daily News.

As I have noticed continually that vessels in th 15 to 25 meter size range have loomed up to be most vulnerable to freaque wave or large storm wave attacks. This Ocean Challenger, a 58 ft commercial fishing boat, is certainly belong to that vulnerable group.

Here's what had happened that day according to this blogger:

It was about 10 o’clock in the morning of October 18, when the 600 foot car-carrier, M/V Overseas Joyce, heard the mayday call from the 58 foot F/V Ocean Challenger. The freighter was close enough for her crew to watch with shock as the fishing boat deployed her life raft in seas nearly 3 stories high. Shock gave way to horror as the smaller craft capsized, sending all of her crew into the frigid waters of the Bering Sea.
The master of the Overseas Joyce immediately relayed the distress call and location - approximately 60 miles south of Sand Point - to the US Coast Guard. Air Station Kodiak launched a C-130 air plane, an HH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter, and the USCG cutter Munro. The car carrier and a second freighter, the R.J. Phifer, a 500-foot container ship, remained to help in the search.
The Jayhawk arrived on scene approximately an hour after the call. The conditions were reported as 50-knot winds, 30-foot seas and a temperature of about 45 degrees. Brutal on land, deadly at sea.
The crew of the Jayhawk, locating the only man wearing a survival suit, lowered a rescue basket into the frenzied waters and hoisted , Kevin Ferrell, 28, originally of Lynchburg, Va. to safety.
The Coast Guard rescue swimmer reached the skipper, 51 year old David “Cowboy” Hasselquist of Hoonah, and 26 year old Walter Foster, of Westport, Washington only to have them pronounced dead by the flight surgeon.
Still missing is Steve Esparza, 26, of Kodiak, Alaska.
Coast Guard C-130 pilot Lt. Jerred Williams said he arrived on scene in the afternoon with a second crew to look for the missing man. “The waves were so high you actually got white caps at the top of the wave,” he said. “And, then, with the wind streaking across the blue water, and the white turbulence everywhere, it made it very challenging to find a person in the water.”
The high waves and wind eventually made the search almost impossible by air so only the Munro continued the search for Esparza into the evening. The Coast Guard called off the search just before 8 p.m. that Thursday night. The search covered approximately 1,730 square miles, and lasted 46 hours and 20 minutes.
Kevin Ferrell was flown to the Cold Bay Clinic, about 50 miles away, then to an Anchorage hospital.

Yes, this is a local news story. But it is a local news of real people. The 51 year old skipper, well liked and known to the locals as simply "Cowboy," worked his way up the ranks from a deckhand to skipper while capturing fishing experiences in the Aleutians and Bearing Sea and supporting a loving family. As this Forum member named 'itdincor" from Sand Point, Alaska, commented:

"Cowboy was a good man, and a good captain. But the sea is a liar, who will kill you and not even notice. And the Ocean Challenger was a very good boat. Sometimes it is not possible to survive what the sea gives.

"You may not care, but we in this town do. Try to remember this, the next time you have a fish dinner. Men often die to bring you dinner."
For a non-fishing mortal like me, I must admit that I always enjoy sea foods but hardly ever think about the hardship where those wonderful things were come from! But as a freaque waves researcher, I do share the trials and tribulations of having to face the freaque waves daily without knowing where, when, why, what, or how to effectively cope with the menace of those freaque waves at the present. What a pity we spent tons of funding resources to wrangle about a possible temperature increase 100 years from now, but no research attention in terms of funding is at all available to help extricate those commercial fishermen's daily plights here and now!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Three large waves this time . . .

It's not quite 4 weeks into the new year, this following reported episode just happened yesterday. Not exactly unexpected, but the story line is almost the same as those happened before, which makes it dreadful to think that this is at the present still something inescapable and to think that it's not really a matter of whether or not but when, where, and how often it might happen. It's always one or two unanticipated larger waves occur abruptly. Vessels with lengths in the 15 m to 20 m range in the nearshore area seemed to be most vulnerable. This time it's three larger waves -- three sisters?! This time it's a 58 ft commercial fishing boat along the Oregon Pacific coast with one life lost, according to this Bellingham Herald's report no longer available online (also see here or here or here.):

GARIBALDI, Ore. — Three large waves struck a 58-foot fishing boat just off the Pacific Coast, rolling it three times in an accident that killed one of four crew members and threw the vessel onto a jetty, the Coast Guard said Friday.

The three survivors from the Thursday night accident had hypothermia but were in good condition early Friday, said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Brian Fischer.

An injured 50-year-old fisherman went into cardiac arrest and died at a hospital after he was pulled off the boat by a rescue helicopter, Fischer said.

The 58-foot Starrigavan was trying to cross the bar of Tillamook Bay about 9:30 p.m. Thursday. A witness saw it list heavily and its lights go out, Fischer said.

A survivor reported the vessel was hit by three 20-foot waves and rolled three times, said Petty Officer Shawn Eggert of the Coast Guard.

The witness called 911, and at about the same time an emergency signal was transmitted from a safety device aboard the Starrigavan to the Coast Guard, Fischer said.

Eggert said the winds at the time were reported at about 17 miles an hour, waves at 11 feet. "It’s possible they were hit by rogue waves," he said.

Eggert said that at the time of the wreck, the bar was closed to recreational boaters and uninspected passenger vessels, but open to commercial fishing vessels such as the Starrigavan.

The vessel was on the rocks of the jetty Friday, and an environmental team was to inspect it before any attempts were made to get it off, Eggert said.

None of the crew members had been identified as of Friday morning. (Update: the lost fisherman has been identified to be 50 years old Kenneth Venard of New Port.)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Story of a hero I know

This story is over five years old. I have heard about pieces of this story when it happened and I remember the Gold Medal in Heroism. I only came across the details of what had happened recently from the article in Santa Barbara News-Press as reproduced in here. I know the hero's father well, Robert E. Lee Pickett, who is an old retired and respected colleague of mine. I think it's self-explanatory why I would like to preserved it here this heart warming freaque wave encounter story in my blog, but it is an exemplary heroic story nevertheless and it's all because they had encountered a dreadful freaque waves on an essentially calm day!

Skipper honored for saving his crew


The way skipper Mark Pickett recalls it, the water off Point
Conception was calm that day a year ago, but in a flash a
20-foot rogue wave bore down on the research vessel Ballena.

It tossed the 60-foot boat upside down like a toy, trapping
the skipper and two scientists inside the cabin underwater.
In the darkness, they fought their way to the surface.

The skipper swam, exhausted, to shore about a quarter-mile
away, and when he saw that his two companions would likely
drown, he swam back out and pulled each of them to safety.

The Ballena, worth at least $500,000 with its high-tech
surveying and research gear, was wrecked. But the trio was
alive -- and for that, Lt. Cmdr. Pickett of the National
Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Corps received the U.S.
Department of Commerce's Gold Medal in Heroism on Nov. 7.

The skipper, who lives in Monterey, got a standing ovation
during a ceremony in Washington, D.C. But the honor was
tinged with some sadness -- the Channel Islands Marine
Sanctuary had lost its only research vessel.

"When I first heard about (the honor), I didn't want
anything to do with it," Lt. Cmdr. Pickett said Saturday.
"We lost the boat."

That could be construed as "screwing up."

But there was an investigation, he said, that cleared
him of doing anything wrong.

His father helped him realize that as the skipper that day,
Nov. 4, 2000, his passengers were his first priority -- not
the boat. That message hit home recently when the wife of one
of the rescued men told him, "Thanks for bringing him back."

The Ballena's final voyage that day was part of a U.S.
Geologic Survey mission to sketch the sea floor using sonar
scans. The boat had been a familiar sight at the Santa Barbara
Harbor, where it was used for marine research and surveying.
Teachers took chartered trips on it to learn more about the
Santa Barbara Channel's plants and animals.

Lt. Cmdr. Pickett, the brother of Channel Islands Marine
Sanctuary Manager Matt Pickett, is a veteran vessel commander
of 17 years and had skippered the Ballena before. He was
called in to skipper that day because the vessel's usual
captain was not available, according to sanctuary officials.

With USGS scientists Guy Cochran and Michael Boyle of
Menlo Park aboard, the boat capsized about 11:30 a.m.
trapping them and the skipper.

Once out from under the boat, they climbed into a small
life raft, but ditched it fearing it might smash on the
rocky shore. They would swim instead.

"We all thought we could make it," he said. It was only
200 yards. They quickly found they were fighting for
their lives in the cold current.

"I thought I was going to die," he recalled. He managed
to make it to shore, finding a patch of sand amid the rocks.

When he saw the other two men were in trouble, he stripped
off his shoes and went back out, rescuing one as he was starting
to go under. Lt. Cmdr. Pickett was so exhausted by the time he
hauled that man ashore, he had to wait a few minutes before he
could go back out and bring in the other man.

Although one of the men couldn't walk or even crawl, somehow
they all managed to climb the rocky cliff barefoot and trek a
couple miles onto Vandenberg Air Force Base. Finally, a bus
full of military personnel picked them up.

"We were all bloodied up and beaten up bad," he said.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Waves in the Sky

The picture in today's "Earth Sciences Picture of the Day" (EPOD) interested me immediately with its title "Waves in the Sky." It's not freaque wave, but an interesting picture nevertheless.

While it is not extremely rare, it is considered as unusual clouds. Another similarly intriguing one is given here as the Kelvin-Helmholtz wave cloud shown below. (In EPOD's description, Helmholtz was misspelled.)

It is usually being formed at the interface of two layers of air mass with a warm layer on top a cold layer generally led to instability and Kelvin-Helmholtz wave cloud. Actually the EPOD picture shows better that the two air mass layers.

Apparently there is no equivalent freaque wave in the sky. But to the extent that freaque waves sometimes being described as "a hole in the sea," it is not hard to look up in the sky and find a hole in the cloud -- though not of the freaque wave kind. There are freaque waves in the stock market, but probably not in the sky!