The captain of a commercial fishing boat that sank last week in remote Aleutian waters said Monday he and other crewmen spent a terrifying night trying to cling to a wave-pummeled life raft.
The 11-man crew was forced to abandon the 93-foot vessel Katmai after it lost steering, flooded and rolled over in rough seas west of Adak early last Wednesday, said Henry Blake, who lives in Massachusetts.
That began a desperate fight for survival, Blake told a panel of federal investigators during a hearing at the Hilton hotel in downtown Anchorage.
Blake said he and six others made it into a life raft, which itself was filled with water as waves pounded against it and the men tried to secure a sheltering canopy in the wind gusts.
"And then a big one came," he said, a monster wave that overturned the raft and dumped the men -- all wearing survival suits -- into the frigid water.
When they regrouped, three of the men had disappeared. "Josh was gone, Cedric was gone," said Blake, pausing at that point as emotion gripped his throat.
In the ensuing hours, before a U.S. Coast Guard rescue helicopter found them the next day and hoisted them to safety, waves flipped the raft over and over again -- 20, 30, maybe even 50 times, Blake said.
A rookie crewman, 23-year-old Adam Foster of Shoreline, Wash., testified Monday that after one wipeout he found himself about 40 yards away from the raft. "Countless times," he said, waves flipped the raft and he had to swim hard to get back to it.
"When we saw that helicopter just come out of the sky out of nowhere, that was the best feeling I've ever felt in my life," he said.
Only Blake, Foster and two others survived the sinking.It is inevitable that when the "big" one comes, the monster wave will overturn the raft and dump the men into the frigid water. Sadly survival suit helped some but not all. A comment attached to the published ADN story by a "ddkeen" that says:
Thank God for the survivors. I am so sorry for the others who lost their lives. May God bless their families and bring them peace.Amen!