Astoria resident Kevin Fisher and three fellow crew members of a crab boat are recovering today after they ran their vessel aground near Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Their dramatic rescue involved sheer cliffs, storm-force winds and three U.S. Coast Guard helicopters.
"It was a miracle no one was injured", said his father, Ed Fisher, of Astoria, this morning.
Early Wednesday morning, the 58-foot crab boat Icy Mist slammed into the rocky coast of Akutan Island, about 40 miles east of Dutch Harbor, a major Aleutian Islands fishing port.
"Fifteen-foot waves were hitting them from over the bow," said Ed Fisher, describing the extreme conditions on the boat as the four men struggled to get off.
"A crab pot they were using washed off the boat to the rocks nearby, and they were able to use its cable as a lifeline to get to shore," he said.
Kevin Fisher was the last to leave the vessel, his father said. He gathered the crew's cell phones and wallets before using another crab pot line to lower himself into the giant waves.
Coast Guard crews instructed the crewmen to head for shore and then to higher ground on the island to get away from a wind-whipped sheer cliff, said Brad Anderson, aboard the Coast Guard cutter Munro, one the ships involved in the rescue.
Hurricane-force winds kept the Coast Guard from lifting crewmen directly from the 58-foot-long Icy Mist,
The Coast Guard identified the rest of the crew as Dan Oliver, 46; Clint Packer, 43; and Terry Meyer, 29. Their hometowns were not available.
The drama started when the Coast Guard received a mayday call early Wednesday reporting that a boat was taking on water, Coast Guard Petty Officer Jon-Paul Rios said from the command center in Juneau. The call was received by the vessel Arctic Fox and relayed to the Northern Glacier, whose crew contacted the Coast Guard.
The vessel was later reported aground on Akutan Island, 766 miles southwest of Anchorage.
The Coast Guard Cutter Munro and three rescue helicopters were sent to aid the crew, but foul weather and high winds hampered rescue efforts, Rios said.
The first helicopter sent, an HH-65 Dolphin launched from Dutch Harbor, was forced to turn back because of the wind, which was blowing at 45 mph, with gusts reaching 80 mph, Rios said.
The Munro, on patrol in the Bering Sea, was ordered to Akutan. It stood by four miles offshore and monitored the scene.
Two larger helicopters, MH-60 Jayhawks, were launched from St. Paul Island, about 265 miles northwest of Akutan. They were unable to lift the crewmen off the vessel when winds reached as high as 120 mph.
Ed Fisher said that because of the winds' intensity, creative thinking from the Coast Guard was needed to eventually get the survivors into the rescue helicopter.
"They flew by and each person got in as the basket passed by," he said.
All were taken to nearby Dutch Harbor for medical evaluations, but there were no reported injuries, Anderson, the operations officer on the cutter Munro, told The Associated Press by satellite phone.
The vessel had three holes in its hull near the engine room when Kevin Fisher left it, and was still hung up on the rocks this morning, Ed Fisher said. The boat's owner was on the way to the scene to asses the damage, he added. The weather continues to prevent access to the area, Fisher said.
"It was a beautiful boat, and one of the best operations in the fleet," Ed Fisher said.
Kevin Fisher left Oregon about three weeks ago for Alaska, after finishing a stint crab fishing off Newport. This was his second time fishing for cod on the Icy Mist. The Fisher family also has a set net operation on the south end of Kodiak Island, where they fish for salmon.