Acts of Impact

Always Ready: The U.S. Coast Guard Rescue of the FCA Alaska Ranger

November 21, 2023 Nicholas Hill
Always Ready: The U.S. Coast Guard Rescue of the FCA Alaska Ranger
Acts of Impact
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Acts of Impact
Always Ready: The U.S. Coast Guard Rescue of the FCA Alaska Ranger
Nov 21, 2023
Nicholas Hill

When the Alaska Ranger sent a distress call to Communications Station Kodiak in the early hours of March 23, 2008, it set in motion a daring and dangerous rescue mission.  Amidst daunting sea and wind conditions, the Coast Guard Cutter Munro coordinated helicopter and plane crews, good samaritan ships, and more in a race against time to save 47 lives. 

On today's episode, we'll explore the events leading up to the sinking, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard's incredible rescue operation in the frigid, unforgiving waters of the Bering Sea.

For this episode, I had the privilege of interviewing three individuals who participated in the rescue operations first-hand, including Flight Commander for the Jayhawk helicopter Brian Mclaughlin, flight mechanic for the Dolphin helicopter Al Musgrave, and communications station watchstander David Seidl. I also had the privilege of interviewing author Kalee Thompson, who literally wrote the book on the rescue operation. Their stories bring to life the intense challenges and split-second decisions faced on this trying night.

I hope you enjoy today's episode. 

For more information on this historic rescue, I highly recommend Kalee's book 'Deadliest Sea: The Untold Story Behind the Greatest Rescue in Coast Guard History'. You can find it on Amazon below:
Also available on Audible at:

To learn more about the show, view transcripts, and more visit:

Special thanks to our guests for their time and insight. 
Music by Alex Grohls.

Show Notes Transcript

When the Alaska Ranger sent a distress call to Communications Station Kodiak in the early hours of March 23, 2008, it set in motion a daring and dangerous rescue mission.  Amidst daunting sea and wind conditions, the Coast Guard Cutter Munro coordinated helicopter and plane crews, good samaritan ships, and more in a race against time to save 47 lives. 

On today's episode, we'll explore the events leading up to the sinking, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard's incredible rescue operation in the frigid, unforgiving waters of the Bering Sea.

For this episode, I had the privilege of interviewing three individuals who participated in the rescue operations first-hand, including Flight Commander for the Jayhawk helicopter Brian Mclaughlin, flight mechanic for the Dolphin helicopter Al Musgrave, and communications station watchstander David Seidl. I also had the privilege of interviewing author Kalee Thompson, who literally wrote the book on the rescue operation. Their stories bring to life the intense challenges and split-second decisions faced on this trying night.

I hope you enjoy today's episode. 

For more information on this historic rescue, I highly recommend Kalee's book 'Deadliest Sea: The Untold Story Behind the Greatest Rescue in Coast Guard History'. You can find it on Amazon below:
Also available on Audible at:

To learn more about the show, view transcripts, and more visit:

Special thanks to our guests for their time and insight. 
Music by Alex Grohls.

Nicholas Hill  0:00  
It's three o'clock in the morning, March 23 2008. Coast Guard watch standard David Seidel is sitting in front of a communication station in Kodiak, Alaska, when suddenly, a mayday call comes in.

Media  0:27  

Nicholas Hill  0:38  
today's story covers the US Coast Guard's incredible rescue of the Alaska Ranger fishing vessel.

Kalee Thompson  0:45  
This is a really complex, interesting, challenging rescue.

Brian Mclaughlin  0:49  
There's almost no way to train for that event,

Al Musgrave  0:51  
I expected that there would be something I didn't know what it was or what the magnitude of it would

David Seidl  0:56  
be. Remember, look it up. And then secondly, this is a serious real one, we got to get going.

Nicholas Hill  1:00  
The 47 crew members on board are plunged into 35 degree water rising and falling in 20 foot waves. They are left floating in complete darkness. The nearest help is three and a half hours away.

Kalee Thompson  1:15  
There's so much chaos. There's so much unknown, there's so much that can't be controlled. They

Brian Mclaughlin  1:18  
were at a 45 plus degree list. They were thinking at the stern and they expect you to capsize any minute and I started

David Seidl  1:24  
the band and no one after another after another after another ship was

Al Musgrave  1:28  
gone. And we started seeing people's emergency lights in the field was miles. Their

Nicholas Hill  1:32  
Swift, precise action would save the lives of 42 people in one of the most dangerous and logistically difficult rescue operations the Coast Guard has ever performed.

Kalee Thompson  1:43  
It really is an inspiring example of teamwork and extremely harsh, dangerous conditions

Brian Mclaughlin  1:49  
this morning is going way different than I would have bet on an hour ago, right? We can actually do this

Al Musgrave  1:53  
right. It's really incredible to see how all those parts came together under really the worst circumstances,

Nicholas Hill  1:59  
you're listening to acts of impact. I'm your host, Nicholas Hill. Let's get started.

Dutch Harbor Alaska is the top fishing port in the United States in terms of volume, there are over 200 boats here. And every fishing season, they pull in 600 million pounds of fish. The harbor sits along a chain of islands off the west coast of Alaska, covered in jagged snow sheath summits. It is as far west as you can go in the United States. And it's really cold and really big.

Kalee Thompson  2:47  
It's the most obvious thing. But Alaska is just so huge and so empty, and everything is so far away from each other. And the infrastructure is just different than most of the places where most of us have spent time. That's

Nicholas Hill  3:03  
author Kaylee Thompson, who wrote the book on the sinking of the Alaska Ranger. And a majority of the information for today's episode comes from Kaylee's writings and research. I asked Kaylee, how she became involved with the story. I

Kalee Thompson  3:18  
was working as a freelance magazine writer and I had an assignment from Popular Mechanics magazine to write a story about rescuers and their tools. So I had already decided that I wanted to do a Coast Guard helicopter rescue crew and that one working out of Alaska would be the ideal because of the extreme conditions there. So I was already in the research for that story. And this incident happened and it just was immediately clear like this is a really complex, interesting, challenging rescue. And as I started interviewing, the members of the rescue crew, the incident commanders on the coastguard side, and eventually getting in touch with some of the fishermen that were on this boat, I pretty quickly thought there's a buck in this and it took me longer to to realize that maybe I could actually be the person to write the book, but it just struck me almost immediately. Like, there's a lot to this story than that was how it all started.

Nicholas Hill  4:26  
Now, as you can imagine, in this harbor with lots of boats, there are lots of jobs, and people come from all over the country to work on the vessels that fish here. One of the largest fishing companies in Dutch Harbor is the FCA, the fishing company of Alaska. They had seven ships in total, five of which were called bottom trawlers, which included our ship for today's story, the Alaska Ranger, the Ranger targeted ground fish near the ocean floor. They are a complete assembly line for turning a freshly caught fish into a fish that you can buy at the store, and a boat like the Alaska Ranger could process 10s of 1000s of pounds of fish on each trip. These boats travel long distances, and they stay out at sea for weeks at a time. Now, most of the jobs on board these boats have nothing to do with fishing. These are factory jobs below deck processing the fish. This is not the most glamorous of jobs, and the standards on these ships aren't great. If the crews inconvenienced by a watertight door, they'll just tie it open. Pipes are in awful shape covered with rust held together with duct tape. Basically, as long as the fish are caught and processed and sold, no one really seems to care much about safety. So this is what they're setting off to do when the Alaska Ranger heads out to the Bering Sea on March 22, with 47 crew members on board. Now their course is being directed by the ship's fish master. A fish master is the person on board in charge of finding the waters with the most fish in them. He's responsible for making their catch quotas. Now you might be saying like I did wait, isn't the captain supposed to decide where they go and what they do? I asked Kaley about this.

Kalee Thompson  6:15  
What became evident to me was that the company was on paper a US company but in reality was being controlled by Japanese interests. And you had this very bizarre power structure where of course you have the captain of the boat and anyone would know that the captain is the person who is in charge of the boat. But on these ships, there was an American Captain which is required by law and then a Japanese fish master. And once I started talking to the regular workers on the boat, many of them have the interpretation that it's really the fish master who is in charge and the captain is working for the fish masters.

Nicholas Hill  6:55  
Now the Alaska Rangers fish Master is a Japanese man named Satoshi Kono, and he is ridiculously competitive. He wanted to get the most fish of any boat in the fleet and nothing could get in his way. Not even as it turns out a shitload of ice. The fish Master would constantly argue with the captain about how fast they needed to be going through the ice. And this is pretty rough on the ship. Because the Alaska Ranger was never meant to go through ice. It had originally been built as a Mississippi Mud boat, an oil supply rig for the Gulf of Mexico back in the 70s and converted to an Alaskan fishing boat decades later. This is important because it means that the Alaska Ranger sits several feet lower in the water than it was originally designed to, which is ultimately going to contribute to its sinking. Now the fish Master is so insistent and fight so hard to get to these fish that he had just had the previous Captain fired over these arguments, and a temporary captain and first mate were placed on board and on Saturday, March 22. Just after noon, Captain Pete Jacobson and firstmate David Silver Ira take the Alaska Ranger and its crew out to open sea heading to an area 400 miles west known as the Pribilof bank. The weather is terrible, the seas are rough, the winds are 25 miles an hour. Now the exact time that everything went to hell isn't exactly known, but a little after two in the morning, factory manager Evan Holmes and Boson Chris casick are called to come to the wheelhouse right away. See Evan and Chris are on the ship's emergency squad. They had each gone to a week of basic training covering fighting fires, Man Overboard climbing in and out of rafts and CPR procedures. They're in charge of responding to any emergencies on board. And when they rushed to the mailroom firstmate David tells them that there's water coming into the ramp room below. They sprang into action, running down three flights of stairs to the ramp room and when they opened the door, there is a foot of standing water. Now for some context, the ramp room is not at the bottom of the boat. It is a full floor up from the bottom of the boat. So if you have a foot of water on the second floor of a boat, that's a problem. And to top it off, they can literally see the waterline rising in front of them. Now there are two D watering pumps on the far side of the ship. These pumps have one job remove water from ship. So Evan and Chris wade through the freezing water they get to the dewatering pumps, hook them up to fire hoses and start running the other end up to the deck to shoot the water off the ship but on the stairs. They run into the ship's Engineer Dan Cook who tells them stop. It's too late. Get everybody up on deck, get your survival suits on and prepare to abandon ship and then abandons the pump and runs straight down to the bunk rooms. He's banging on doors shaking men awake shouting to them to get on Deck, the rudder rooms full of water prepared to abandon ship. And once everyone is on deck, Eric pulls out huge bags of survival suits, one for each crew member. These bright red full body neoprene suits are designed for two things to keep you floating and to keep you dry. And in 35 degree water staying dry means staying alive. With these suits, there is one rule. Do not let water get inside them. Any hole any tear. Anything that allows water in is a death sentence. They were also trained that if it's time to put on the suit, it's time to zip it up all the way. History was filled with stories of bodies being pulled out of the water with a suit on and the zipper opened up to the sea. Once everyone had their suits on, Eric pulled out the life raft sheets and start separating the crew into three groups, one group for each of the 20 man life rafts. The situation so far was relatively calm, but the deck is covered in ice. The bow is covered in snow, the waves are crashing up past the trawl winches, and the back edge of the stern is slowly getting closer and closer to the waterline. And it is at this point that a few of the men start mentioning they don't know how to swim. The ship is 180 miles west of Dutch Harbor, and hours and hours from help. Meanwhile, 800 miles away. Watch standard David Seidel is working a 12 hour overnight shift at communication station Kodiak, also known as Comstock Kodiak, I was able to speak to David for today's episode, and I learned a little about why this station was set up and how they were operating at the time. The point

David Seidl  12:06  
of the communication station is they use HF radio waves so not VHF, which is they still use line of sight. But VHF is 16 miles, maybe these are HF we can talk to Australia, we hear stuff going on in the South China Sea for alarms, that entire Station was designed for long range communication, where before satellites came out and stuff like that we had like kind of three main initiatives one was maintaining the radar made a call area to a one to another was maintaining communications with our airplanes and helicopters. And they were on different schedules of how often they had to keep us up making sure we knew they were airborne every 15 or 30 minutes. And if they went overtime, without us knowing that it's like, hey, something like that happened. We got to launch to go look for our guys. And there's different people doing it. So like one person was specific for listening for distress calls, one person was specific listening for air to ground isn't helping out with that. The communication

Nicholas Hill  12:57  
station is sophisticated with over 30 communications towers, it can pick up emergency radio comms from all over the world. And normally, if someone is at the point of calling in, it meant trouble.

David Seidl  13:10  
Yeah, so you have the guys on the boat. They may not have an engineering degree, but they are hydraulic engineers. They are master mechanics, they take care of everything. They know their risk, what's going on out there. So if they call that mean, something bad generally happened. Like, hey, you got a fire in the wheelhouse, like, what's your location? They told me then come back five minutes later, like, hey, everything's good. I'm like, wait for you. But I got paperwork now.

Nicholas Hill  13:31  
Tonight's call would be a different beast entirely. At 2:46am firstmate David Silva picks up the HF radio onboard the Alaska Ranger, and calls the Coast Guard where David picks it up.

David Seidl  13:46  
So I'm facing the wall with eight speakers and keep the door open and talk with my supervisor Adam Connors. She liked to hear to it came in really clear. And I remember looking it up and then just nodding at me or singing was like yep, this is a serious real one. We got to get going. And that was about it. Just spin the chair around and answer and you try and get information where are you how many people what's going on with your vessel look like there's five things you want to get right away being location or number of people right away. So did that and we pass it to my boss. He's calling up sector Juneau. He is calling up the air station and letting them know, Hey, we got something that's real going on right now. Don't wait for sector Jr. to call you. We need to get moving on this now. David

Nicholas Hill  14:27  
collects all of the necessary information. The Alaska Ranger is 184 feet in length about the size of four school buses end to end. Black Hole white trim, they're flooding in the rudder room. The dewatering pumps can't keep up. They're preparing to abandon ship. David immediately begins coordinating rescue efforts.

David Seidl  14:49  
I would talk to the vessel in distress and put out signals saying hey, anyone that can come help come help. We need to look out for whatever was going on in this area. The guy that's in the booth for air Our ground has to get going because they're gonna start launching pillows and C 130s. over that and just start communicating. That's basically it is is just like a game of telephone of the sector's unit wants to know this, we got to provide that information and get back and go in and until they can have a better conversation. Now

Nicholas Hill  15:16  
that the word is out, the first thing they need is a helicopter and a crew. A helicopter can get there the fastest, and it's stable enough to pull people out of the water. And luckily, the Coast Guard stations emergency helicopter crews nearby for exactly this reason. See, commercial fishing is the most dangerous job in the United States. When you look at all US jobs, the danger comes to about four deaths per 100,000 people. For us fishermen, it's 129 deaths per 100,032 times the average. It

Kalee Thompson  15:54  
is the deadliest job, at least in the United States Deadliest Catch was accurately titled in terms of the whole fishing industry. These are what they call factory trawlers. So these boats are really like a processing factory inside. And the people that are hired to work on these boats, in a lot of cases, they don't have experience on the ocean dealing with harsh weather. And a lot of the men that I ended up interviewing and spending time with, they just answered an ad flew up to Alaska, and were thrown on these boats with very little training. And as I got into the research, I really got interested in many of the other, more tragic incidents that have happened over the years of which unfortunately, there were many examples. And a lot of the times the people who die are people with very little experience. In several cases, there were people that were actually undocumented immigrants that were working on these boats, people who literally are coming from Central America up to that harbor. And the next thing you know, in the middle of the Bering Sea,

Nicholas Hill  17:05  
the Pribilof islands where all of the act of fishing is taking place are 750 miles from coast guard's Kodiak station. So if something were to happen, the Coast Guard base would be six and a half hours away. And that's way too long for a rescue. So to account for that, the Coast Guard stations to Forman, emergency helicopter crews on one of the Pribilof islands, an island called St. Paul.

Kalee Thompson  17:32  
So they actually just camp out there waiting for fishing vessels to sink. That's part of their regular job in seasons. And the thing that struck me is they're not just here rescuing fishermen, they're playing the role of EMTs. And they're just involved in so many different aspects of Alaskan life.

Nicholas Hill  17:54  
Now, for today's episode, I have the pleasure of interviewing Brian McLachlan, one of the two flight commanders stationed on St. Paul at the time,

Brian Mclaughlin  18:04  
we would deploy to helicopter crews to St. Paul from January to beginning of April. And we would stay there for that period to make sure we were in closer proximity to the fishing fleet if anything went wrong, because if we were to fly directly from Kodiak Island, it's about a 750 mile flight. So it's six and a half hours to get there. ffice. If you're on St. Paul, you're 250 miles from Dutch Harbor, everything's much closer, you can get there a lot faster. It just puts you in closer proximity to the fishing fleet. And that's why we were out there.

Nicholas Hill  18:36  
Now. Brian continues to serve the coastguard today. But at the time, he had only been in Kodiak a few years. That

Brian Mclaughlin  18:43  
was my second tours and H 60 aircraft commander. And I had been stationed in Kodiak since 2006. And we deployed to Cordova and St. Paul and cold Bay at different times of the year at that point. So that was my second full winter in Kodiak. My son was born about a month and a half prior and I get a little bit of time just before that deployment to spend at home with my wife and my son, and then went out to St. Paul for what was supposed to be a two week deployment. Something happened with the crew that was supposed to take over for us so I ended up getting extended for 3/3 Week, which pulled me into this crew, in this case to happen on my third week there. Brian

Nicholas Hill  19:26  
was an academy graduate. He'd earned his wings at 24 and became an aircraft commander at 26. His crew that day consisted of flight mechanic Rob to bolt, rescue swimmer O'Brien star Harlow and co pilot Steve bond. Almost every time they flew, they were flying in less than ideal conditions. So

Brian Mclaughlin  19:46  
since it's January through March, it's always really cold during that time when we're up there. And I remember that week was one of the first times I've ever seen the ocean frozen over. So a lot of times you could be flying it could be clear in a million really cold, or you could be down to almost nothing visibility wise and really gusty high speed winds and the the lowest temperature I ever saw there was minus 40. So you can get extreme cold, or you get just regular winter temperatures, the majority of time. With

Nicholas Hill  20:16  
two crews stationed on the island, one crew is always ready to go should a call come in. And when the Alaska Ranger begins to sink, this is the station that David's team contacts for help. But he doesn't reach Brian, because at the time, Brian wasn't even on call.

Brian Mclaughlin  20:32  
The funny thing is, we weren't technically on duty. The other crew had responded they had flown all the way down to Dutch Harbor to pick up a patient to bring it back to St. Paul. So someone could come and get them. It was a heart attack patient. But they had four and a half hours on. So when I got the call, Steve Bond came into my room at 3am He was still playing Call of Duty. And he's like, hey, the Air Station is on the phone, we have a case and I answered the phone. And the report we got initially was a 200 foot boat with 48 people on board is taking on water. They also told us that the Coast Guard column and row was south of St. Paul, but still 120 miles away from the last known position of the line or where the Alaska Ranger was at that time. And the sea state was such that they couldn't launch their age 65 At the time, it was they were out of what we call pitch and roll limitations. The ship was rolling and pitching too much in the sea state to launch the helicopter safely at the time. So they wanted us to launch and try and get down there and see if they needed any assistance. So at that point, you prepare for the full gamut. One you're thinking I've launched on cases where they say the world's going apart and you go down there and their freezer is defrosted and you have sent them a towel right? To people who don't think things are going to wrong you get on scene in the boat literally capsizes in front of you and everyone's in the water. And so you never know. So you're preparing for everything. So at that point, we drove to the hangar we loaded what we call a mass casualty raft, which is the raft that holds 20 to 25 people. We took on as much fuel as we could, and we got airborne. So the

Nicholas Hill  21:57  
first piece of the puzzle, the helicopter J hawk and its crew are now in route to the Alaska Ranger nearly 200 miles away. The second thing the Coast Guard needs for this rescue is a fixed wing aircraft. So they call aircraft pilot Tommy Walling, Tommy piloted a plane called the Hercules, a Lockheed C 130. The Hercules is a plane that's popular among militaries worldwide. Now, I was actually a little confused by this. So I asked David, how can an airplane be useful here, they need to pull people out of the water, right? So what is an airplane going to do on scene so

David Seidl  22:35  
that C 130 can stay on scene a lot longer, like they can fly from Kodiak to Midway Island. So they can be on scene for eight hours. And then you have people with a clearer picture of what's going on. And then they take up the guard for the helicopters because they're talking all the time anyway. If something happens, they can drop an epub and keep going from there. Have you heard of an EPUB. So drops in water starts getting off a signal, right? And that tells you which way the tides go and the currents go in all that other stuff. So they can say, Okay, if the boat went down here, it's been two hours, we should be looking for people here.

Nicholas Hill  23:06  
So E PERB stands for emergency position indicating radio beacon. And these can be crucial in sinkings like this. So in short, the plane can drop rescue and medical supplies dewatering pumps and life rafts. They can keep watch over helicopter operations, keep communications fluid and drop the E herbs to help keep track of survivors. Tommy immediately gets to work. And 30 minutes after getting the call. His crew is airborne and enroute. The next thing they need is another ship, which can serve as a central base of operations on the water and also, you know, a place to put all of these survivors. So David's team gets in touch with operations boss Jimmy Terrell who's stationed onboard the Coast Guard Cutter Monroe. Coast Guard cutters are ships that are used for missions including law enforcement, search and rescue and maritime patrol. And this one, the Monroe is relatively close by patrolling near the islands on the Arctic edge. Now the Monroe's Captain Craig Lloyd has a reputation for running one of the best run boats in the fleet. He is chief of all Qatar forces for the entire west coast at the time. His ship the Monroe also has another trick up her sleeve, a rescue helicopter onboard the ship called the dolphin. The dolphin is smaller and lighter than the J Hawk, which means that can take off directly from the ship's deck. The crew for the dolphin consisted of Lieutenant Greg get Amir aircraft commander TJ Schmitz, rescue swimmer Abram Heller and flight mechanic al Musgrave. I had the pleasure of interviewing owl for today's story.

Al Musgrave  24:51  
At the time I was a member of a deployment group out of air station Kodiak called Al Pat which Yeah, it's Alaska patrol, we mainly did fisheries and emergency response throughout the year. And we were just on a patrol with the Monroe and having to be out on pretty rough time of year. So what we would do, we would fly basically ops for the ship, the Monroe can go do mornings, and check on the fishing vessels. And of course, we're also out there for emergency response as well. At

Nicholas Hill  25:24  
252. In the morning, the Monroe gets a call from the Coast Guard that the Alaska Ranger is sinking south of their position. At the time owl is sitting in his bunk on board, there

Al Musgrave  25:35  
was a pretty nasty windstorm that was blowing through that kicked up a lot of waves. And so we were hiding out in the calm on the backside of an island. But when the call came in about the Alaska Ranger, they immediately started in route. And as we came around and got into the seas, there was immediate change. I think it was around three o'clock in the morning. And when we hit that hard rolling seas that was braced up in my rack to keep from rolling out our books, we call them racks. When we're on the ship, I knew something was happening, because the berthing area I was staying in was across from the entrance down into the command and control center. And there were a lot of people moving. So I expected that there would be something I didn't know what it was or what the magnitude of it would be. But I knew there was something going on. Operation

Nicholas Hill  26:29  
specialist Aaron Lopez starts listening in on the communications, everyone sounded calm. But Lopez knew from her experience that that did not mean the situation was under control. captains were likely to say things like, Hey, we've got a tiny little problem here. When their ship was halfway underwater, the Monroe immediately shifts into high gear. And I mean that literally, they had these huge jet engine turbans that you would see on an airplane that they could use in emergencies. They

Al Musgrave  27:00  
had their main diesels that they operated most of the time. And if they needed to get it and start moving on, they'd fire up those turbans and get going, still didn't move as fast as a Navy frigate that we did. Okay, for ships that were mostly built in the 60s and 70s.

Nicholas Hill  27:17  
They shift into high gear and speed towards the Alaska Ranger. And while they speed towards the Ranger, their flight crew holds a preflight brief.

Al Musgrave  27:26  
Once they determined that they're going to be launching an aircraft, they'll bring the pilots in to start doing what they call a guard model, which is a risk assessment tool. They look at the overall situation and determine what risks they find acceptable, given the circumstances. There is a caveat in the directives that we use for helping make decisions that when loss of life can be prevented, that increased risk is acceptable.

Nicholas Hill  27:57  
They review the weather conditions the information they have on the sinking ship, the geography of the area, and the objectives of the mission. They're dealing with long flight distances, high winds, snow, multiple victims, and all of this in the middle of the night. They all agree that this is a very high risk mission. The pilot TJ Schmitz determines that he's comfortable launching the dolphin once they are 80 miles from the sinking site. It's farther than anything they would ever do in training but reasonable given the situation. out along with flight mechanics, Greg Beck and Logan Cole, prepare the dolphin for takeoff. This is an important part of the operation. A lot of the work that goes into rescue happens before the crews ever get on Route. After preparations, all they can do is wait to get in range. Now finally, there is one other ship that answers the distress call. This is another fishing boat. In fact, it's a sister ship to the Alaska Ranger, the Alaska warrior. Now don't get it confused. The Alaska Ranger is sinking. The Alaska warrior is coming to help they immediately begin heading in the direction of the Ranger. Meanwhile, the situation on the Ranger has gotten worse. At the request of the Coast Guard they've turned on their ships emergency radio beacon, which sends a constant satellite signal with the ship's location. The winds around them have increased to 40 miles an hour, and they've officially lost the ability to steer the boat. It's three o'clock in the morning. And the Coast Guard is radioing in every five minutes for updates. The crew is leaning up against the rail on deck holding on for dear life. Evan, the emergency squad member grabs the ship's ladders and secures them to the deck rail one near each life raft. The crew is scared. They knew how to put on their suits but that was where their training ended. They didn't know how To get off the boat, or what to do once they were in the water, and there was also a struggle to relay information, because not all of the crew spoke English, you

Kalee Thompson  30:09  
also end up with language barriers. So you're basically in a dangerous workplace here. And then you have people on the ship that are not speaking the same language that just is adding to the sort of danger and complexity when they find themselves in a truly dire circumstances.

Nicholas Hill  30:26  
Back inside the wheelhouse the engineer has figured out what's causing the water to come in, the ship has completely lost a rudder. This was because the rudder was sitting completely underwater. Remember when I said the ship had been converted to a fishing vessel from a Mississippi Mud boat? Well, that conversion put the rudder trunk opening below the waterline, which puts stress on the rudder from above until it broke off entirely. Now normally, losing a rudder wouldn't cause the ship to sink because there's a watertight bulkhead, but either that door was left open, or the seals are latching failed. Whatever the reason, this is what causes the room to begin filling with water. The Coast Guard asks the ship's officers how much fuel they have on board. See, whenever a ship is about to sink, they need to know how much fuel is onboard, so they can report to environmental agencies how much fuel just got dumped into the water. So already the Coast Guard is thinking ahead to the worst case scenario.

David Seidl  31:30  
They wanted to know how much gas was on their case, it was an environmental thing. And I think I said pounds because I was thinking well aircraft, like Oh no, it's yeah, I'm like, Yeah, you're dealing with this and you have to deal with my dumbass I can't remember gallons. Now

Nicholas Hill  31:43  
at this point, the stern of the ship is completely underwater. And a few minutes later, the ship loses power, the officers and crew are plunged into complete darkness in the middle of the sea. Now this is where something really weird happens. The boat suddenly shifts into reverse. This is not good. Within seconds, the deck drops from beneath the crew and two people are immediately launched into the water. People begin to yell everyone is shouting at the same time man in the water man in the water. Others begin to yell abandoned ship. Others are shouting, I don't know how to swim, several of the men begin to pray in a circle and the captain makes the call. It is time to get off of this boat. Evan races to his assigned life raft, he can barely see anything and it feels like the ship could capsize at any moment. The plan is to launch the raft and then climb down the ladder from the side of the ship to get in. But the ship is still going in reverse. And there's no way to steer it or stop it. When the life raft hits the water it shoots off towards the bow, they can still see it but now it's nowhere near the ladder. And the exact same thing happened to the lifeboat that was launched on the other side. But for that one, it disappears entirely. Now this is really really bad. training teaches you that if it is at all humanly possible, your top priority is to get directly from the ship into a life raft. The instructions had been repeated again and again and again. Get into a raft. They tried to pull the raft they could see back, but it barely budged they would have to swim to it. Each man follows the ladder down and drops into the waves. They can only see each other by the blinking strobe lights on their survival suits. By 415, three quarters of the crew have abandoned ship, and the officers alert the Coast Guard when

David Seidl  33:45  
they started the band. And then we thought they were all together and didn't realize till later that there was like one after another after another after another like that. The

Nicholas Hill  33:53  
Coast Guard responds to keep their emergency beacons on them at all times and to be safe. I asked David, what did it feel like to be speaking to the crew of the ranger in a situation this dire? And if he had had any training for how to approach it?

David Seidl  34:09  
Yeah, there's definitely no training just hey, what do we need to know to help them out as best they can? And they know being a large trawler like that they're professionals on their team. They know that they have to give us what we need in order to best help them. It's just a mutual like, I have no idea who you are. You're calling for help. And you know that I'm here trying to help you. There's nothing like real training or anything like that it's just do the best you can.

Nicholas Hill  34:32  
Meanwhile, back in the Jayhawk rescue chopper. Pilots Brian McLachlan and Steve bond stare out into the dark night. They are listening in on all communications as they race towards the scene. So they know that things are going south fast. By

Brian Mclaughlin  34:48  
the time we reached the scene, we were pretty sure things weren't good. Because we talked to the cutter Monroe when they said they were getting mixed reports but there might be a couple of people in the water Are Everyone okay? That's serious because it's March in the Bering Sea. And that's cold. And we were directed initially, that if we picked up any survivors to bring them in Dutch Harbor, my my paper map at the time, and I looked, and that was 135 miles away. And so I called the ship and I said, Hey, Dutch Harbor is going to be two hours, three hours round trip, can I bring survivors back to you? It'll keep me off scene less time. And the captain said, yes, yeah, six years or seven, whatever we need. So we were coordinating that way, just thinking about how to get as many people out of the water, if it comes to that or off the boat as quickly as possible if this thing goes south, so we got a little bit past, the Monroe got about 50 miles from the Alaska Rangers last known position, and I called the Alaska range. And I identified who we were and said, We're Coast Guard helicopter about 50 miles north of us, can you give us a status update. And what he passed at that point was that they were at a 45 plus degree list. They were sinking at the stern. And they expect you to capsize any minute. And so that was well kinda. I feel like it probably got quiet in the helicopter for a second as we all went, yeah. Well, if right? At this point, we confirmed it was 47 people, some if everyone would be able to get on their survival suits. He said, Yes. He told us. Some people were they were abandoning ship. Some people were on rafts. Some people were not in rafts. And I asked him, Do you know how many people got in the rafts? And how many didn't? He did not know. And I asked him one more question. And for the life of me, I can't remember what the third question was. But he never came back. We never answered.

Nicholas Hill  36:42  
The crew on the ranger had always been taught that in the event they had to go into the water, it was best to try to stick together. Groups provided increased warmth, increased visibility, and most importantly, increased morale. Feeling like you're helping someone else to survive can sometimes be the key to your own survive. Back at the life rafts, the crew was struggling. The suits made it hard to get into the rafts. And with so many people, it was chaotic. And 20 foot waves and pitch blackness, it was nearly impossible to communicate. 10 survivors ultimately made it into the first draft. Those who couldn't fit tied themselves to the side. Everyone was quiet and scared. But not everyone was lucky enough to even get near a raft. Many couldn't fight the power of the waves, so they lied on their backs in the frigid water. As the hours went by. Those who were able to find one another tried to link together. They watched from the waves as the bow of the ship began pointing higher and higher into the air until plunging straight down into the dark sea. Back at the Jayhawk helicopter, it was evident the Alaska ranger had sunk.

Brian Mclaughlin  37:56  
After we lost comms with the Ranger. We said hey ship who was talking about Alaska Ranger, this the Coast Guard who's out there and they was the Alaska warrior, their sister ship. And so we talked to them a little bit and get some information. Why that's relevant is we have a radar on the front where big ships like that I can pick up on radar. And they gave us their position and I can pick them up on the radar exactly where they said they were at no point did I ever have at the Alaska Ranger on radar, they were gone.

Nicholas Hill  38:24  
In cold seas, it takes just a few minutes for the first stages of hypothermia to set in. When you first hit cold water, your body has a shock response. This can cause you to gasp, which in rough seas can cause you to drown. Most deaths that occur within the first half hour of Coldwater immersion are not because of hypothermia, they're because of panic. The most important thing you can do when you hit the water is to gain control of your breathing first. Once you have that control, then you should do your absolute best to get to a floatation device, you have 10 minutes before you lose mobility. Make yourself as visible as possible. Cut off any ability for water to touch your skin. The last thing you can do to help yourself is to be fat. Increased body weight boosts the likelihood of survival. Fat is a very efficient insulator against heat loss. In fact, thin subjects wearing light clothing were found to cool at nine times the rate of their larger peers. Almost all coldwater victims who don't have survival suits lose consciousness within an hour. But even then you can still increase your chances of survival by positioning your head so that it doesn't fall under water. When you lose consciousness. There are plenty of cases of victims being revived even after losing all vital signs in cold water. And it's recommended that rescuers attempt CPR even an hour after someone has lost consciousness. The commonly used phrases nobody is dead until they're warm and dead. In later interviews members of the crew mentioned that after enough time in the cold blackness of the waves, they thought about unzipping their suits, and just letting themselves freeze to death. Make it quick. Get it over with. They said that it had begun to look like nobody was coming at all. But then the Jayhawk arrives on scene. It's

Brian Mclaughlin  40:24  
about 5am when we actually got on scene, and we're on night vision goggles, and we saw a strobe light, just one I said, Hey, strobe light, 12 o'clock. And then we saw a second one. There's another one. Then we saw third one, I went, Okay, hey, there's three strobe lights, those must be the RAS. Right. Okay, so we know there's three rafts, we found them.

So out of phrases, then they just kept popping up. In hindsight, doing the math, we know, I think, pretty good idea that there was 28 lights in the water, the three rafts and 25 other people that were in the water, give or take a few. But what we saw was, I don't know, half a mile to a mile of lights. That were there strobes so they go off every couple seconds plus the seas where it was actually like 25 foot seas. So between the sea state, the strobe effect itself and just the length of the swath of people. It was you get on scene to that you're like, Shays, what are we going to do here? How do you deal with all this? The 60s A big helicopter? It's not 42 People big. So initially, there's this kind of overwhelming initial reaction. Geez, how are you? How this is not gonna end well. But at that point, okay, we've got this big helicopter. Let's get to work. Just so happens. The first light we flew over, was a life raft. And someone popped out. They had a handheld radio, they call this as a Coast Guard. You just flew over us. We're in life raft. Did you see us? And I said, it's got on the radio said yes. Yeah. Yeah. How many people? Do you have any raft? He said, 10 or 11? I'm not sure. 1011? And they said, Okay, is everyone okay? And said yes. All right. Here's what I need you to do. We need to get all the people that aren't in the rafts out of the water first. I need you guys stay close. Stay warm, right? Try and bail out water. If you can, we'll come back for you. But I need to get the people out of the water first. And he's like, yeah, absolutely. Coast Guard will be here. Go save our crew members. And so you're asking about tactics. We talked about a lot of what ifs on the way down. We never would have left this, right. We never like hey, what do we do if there's a million strobe lights in the water in front of us? Right? What do you do that seemed to go on forever. So we flew south to the southern most lights, because the winds coming out of the north so that people would start blowing towards us as we began hoisting people. And the first thing we figured we'd do is go near a group of people that weren't in rafts and deploy our mass casualty rafts that we had brought with us. So we got no hover. And so Brian kicked the raft out the door, not informed of the polypropylene line, ripped it out of his hands. So the raft and Ally went out the door and did inflate. O'Brien let us know this, and we said, shit, okay, here we go. And so we just got down and started hoisting people. And the way we know how big the seas were at that point is we establish what we thought was about a 40 foot hover, but we have a radio altimeter that shoots a beam down below, the helicopter tells you how close you are to the next thing you're going to hit. And our radar altimeter went from 40 feet to 15 feet, 40 feet, 15 feet in back forth. And so you know, we have a pretty good indication of what we're dealing with. And it's pretty gnarly.

Nicholas Hill  43:52  
Now, once the helicopter is hovering over a group of survivors, they have another challenge to overcome, the pilots aren't able to see what's happening directly below the chopper. And to account for this, the flight mechanic takes control of all communications, providing consistent updates and direction to the rest of the crew.

Brian Mclaughlin  44:12  
As the flying pilot, you can't see below the aircraft you see basically out at an angle because the way that the windows are and you've ordered this big helmet, so you can only get so close to the window to look down. And so, the flight mechanic initiates what we call common commands. We are basically voice activated Meat Puppets up front in the cockpit at that point, the flight mechanic is hanging out the door looking straight down or wherever we need to go. And he or she is saying forward and right 10 forward and right five, Easy forward and right hold, lowering, deploying swimmer, whatever it is, so what he'll he or the flight mechanic will be doing in this case, Rob, I'll just use he because it was Rob. He'll have the hoist control on one hand managing the hoist cable and the other hand, he'll con the pilot into position. So Alright, hold on. are lowering swimmers below the Cavins swimmers halfway down swimmers 10 feet above the water and holding, putting some of the water swimmers away swimmers, okay, clear to move back and left 40 or whatever. And so it's a pretty, pretty good dance of four brains trying to work in one direction. There's

Kalee Thompson  45:16  
so much chaos, there's so much unknown, there's so much that can't be controlled. And the way the helicopter rescue crew copes with that is by very intense step by step methodical training, just the intense level of precision in the way that they communicate with each other. And the way that they carry out that operation in terms of the physical rescue, every sentence that they say to each other, is absolutely precise. And you need that because you're dealing with an unbelievably chaotic, dynamic situations. So that was the part of it that really stayed with me is how intentional and clear the plan and communication is.

Nicholas Hill  46:03  
These crews practice for every possible scenario, they train over and over until it's second nature clockwork methodical, consistent. But something Brian told me was that the training isn't meant to be a step by step procedure, more like a box of tools. And when it comes time to execute, it's up to the crew to decide how to move forward.

Brian Mclaughlin  46:26  
I'll say up front, and it's going to sound possibly weird. There's almost no way to train for that event, that that was of such large scale, but we train all the time. So we're regularly training on hoisting the rescue swimmer to and from the water to and from boats, the baskets, or the litter different rescue devices. We're training on homing in on distress signals, emergency position indicating radio beacons, or emergency location transmitters that come off of airplanes. And we're also practicing learning in different places in the woods, on runways on beaches, because you never know where these are going to happen. So we're trying to train for the environment we're in. But there's a set of general practices that whether you're in Florida, Puerto Rico, or Alaska are the same techniques. A good example is when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, we surge our helicopters down to the Gulf Coast. And then you'd have a pilot from Florida, a pilot from Alaska flight mechanic from Cape Cod, Massachusetts and rescue swimmer from Alabama, all getting the helicopter and never having flown together. But everything's so standard, you can do it together. So we're training all the time in what that allows us to do is we have a really well stocked toolbox to deal with all these situations that are never anything like our training. But it allows us to flex and manage the chaos and respond in a way that we can effectively help manage that chaos. And so the training gives us these tools to do something like this. But to train for an event like this, we just can't train for something this large scale on a regular basis. When

Nicholas Hill  48:07  
the Jayhawk gets to the side of the Alaska Ranger, another crew has shown up as well, the Hercules The pilots and push the aircraft to its absolute limit. And now that they were on scene, they were able to keep an eye on Brian and his crew as they pulled up survivors.

Brian Mclaughlin  48:23  
One of the first things I talked to the Alaska warrior about before we even get on scene, as I said, hey, when we get down low to start doing our thing, we're not gonna be we'll talk to anybody that's over the horizon. So I said, Would you guys mind holding our guard, which all that means is I'm going to call you every 15 minutes and just let you know, we're still flying. If you don't hear from me in 15 minutes, that means we crashed, right? And I need you to call the cavalry. And so once the C 130 gets on scene, they can talk to us they can relay comms to all over the state. And they become a fantastic platform. What they can also do in situations like this is they can drop extra survival equipment like rafts and dewatering pumps, they did a lot of the coordination between my helicopter and the H 65. And then relayed that to the cutter as well. So a lot of coordination there.

Nicholas Hill  49:09  
With the C 130. Holding their guard, the Jayhawk crew gets to work and begins to pull up survivors. First

Brian Mclaughlin  49:16  
thing we did was we put O'Brien down on what's called a direct deployment. And that means he's never going to disconnect from the hoist hook. That way, we don't lose him, right? What he can do is go down and secure the survivor to him and we bring them up. And so we did that. It really took forever because what would happen is we'd be in position this wave would come it would grab O'Brien, a swimmer dragon behind us. So we're chasing the whole time or chasing second survivor. We did the same thing. But this time, I remembered my job which was to say, hey, the next swell is 10 seconds out, five seconds out three to one, and so they can anticipate them and start moving the helicopter and pacing the swimmer and survivor when they get dragged back by the huge waves. So those are the first couple hoists After two O'Brien came in, he said, Hey, what do you think if on the next group, we do a hardest deployment, which means he's actually going to disconnect from the hoist in the water, and then you just send the basket down, we bring them up, and then just keep putting it back down and bring it up survivor one at a time. So it's faster, but now the risk is O'Briens disconnected. And we could have an emergency with the rescue swimmer. We all discussed it and decided okay, the the gain associated with that is worth the risk involved with letting O'Brien disconnect. So that's what we would do for the rest of our hoists. As this was going on. Steve's flying O'Brien's in the water. Rob is doing all the hoisting. And I made a call out to the Alaska warrior, their sister ship and said, Hey, where are you guys at right now. And he was about five miles from where we were now. So they were actually really close. And they said, What kind of ship are you? And he said, We're another 200 foot Fisher processor type boat. So I said, okay, hey, can we bring survivors to you drop them off on your boat, so that we can get back on the scene quicker and get more people out of the water? And they said, Yeah, absolutely. Let us know what you need. So

Nicholas Hill  51:06  
the plan now is to drop the survivors off at the Alaska warrior to save time. But while Brian is coordinating with the warrior, the maneuvering of the survivors in the back of the chopper is hitting a bit of a roadblock. And unfortunately, things had to get a little physical. The

Brian Mclaughlin  51:22  
gentleman that would be the fourth survivor in the cabin, we noticed it's taking a while you know you've been in the water you're cold, you're terrified, probably try not to drown. So this guy is not thinking right. So we get him in the cabin in the thick of a big kind of cage that the sitting in. And so when we got the gentleman in the cabin, sitting in the basket, here's Rob trying to do his thing, get the person out of the basket so we can get the basket right out the door. Boys more people. And Rob says the guy will get out of the basket. So what do you mean he will go to the basket? Like he's just he's holding on the bales he will not let go. And I said okay, took the basket over which is something we do you just got to put over and they generally lose out. And he goes I did you won't let go. And we can actually hear the other three crew members go and get out of the basket dude, like they're young get out. And he's just, he's just terrified and frozen. At this point. He's just I'm gonna let it go. I'm in the helicopter. Now. I'm good. So Rob said, I can't get out of the basket. So Rob, we need to get the basket out the door and I'm looking out the window there strobe lights everywhere still an O'Brien's in the water. We need this hoist. And I said punch him in the shoulder, wake him up. And he just jolted he's okay. So he punches the gentleman in the shoulder. I don't know her but nothing. The guy just won't let go. And he's like, Sir, I don't know what to do you want to just send down the bear hook? No, we need that basket. And I said, All right, Rob, grab the flashlight. And whack up. And we have this big police officer de sel Maglite in the back. And he's like what I said, just hit him on the hand, the wrists something just whack him enough to jolt them so we can get them out of there. But like I own it, just hit him with a flashlight. So Rob begrudgingly takes a flashlight wax this guy on the forearm. He was like what and they rip him out of the basket. The survivors actually helped him rip them out of the basket. And he sends a basket out and we got hoisting again. And it's something we don't teach that anywhere. We don't beat the survivors. It was just one of those crazy things in the chaos of the moment where we just we needed that device. And I've never assaulted a survivor since

Nicholas Hill  53:34  
the J Crew brings in survivors one after the other. In the chaos of the event, Brian is trying to keep track of how many they've saved.

Brian Mclaughlin  53:44  
While they're bringing people in. I'm making tick marks on my notebook to track the number of people we had coming in. So we got to what I had on my keyboard was 12 people in the cabin. And Rod said, Hey, we're only gonna be able to get one more person and if we want to get O'Brien back in the helicopter, and then we're going to be full. So we get O'Brien in with what I thought was at that point, that 13th survivor, and we headed over to the Alaska warrior to start trying to offload folks. The captain

Nicholas Hill  54:12  
of the Alaska warriors Scott crea prepared his ship to try and accommodate the survivors. See, although they had now been pulled out of the water, the survivors were by no means in the clear. Many of them were in various states of hypothermia. The

Brian Mclaughlin  54:28  
survivors were all soaked they'd all been in the water for probably an hour easily at that point. They're gonna be suits, the survival suits, they were enrol in various states of disrepair. Some wouldn't zipper, some are too small, some are too big. Some had holes in them. And so a lot of them were filling with water and you'd have a 200 pound guy come up but I have another 100 pounds of water in a suit and the suits are hanging down below the cabinet as they come up. So it was it was a big hot mess. Most of them were hypothermic some of them were in really bad hypothermic conditions, were getting concerned that they were going to decompensate and go into shock. As we departed, seen Rob and O'Brien would do sternum rubs with their knuckles to keep those in the worst condition conscious and don't let him slip into shock, trying to keep them alert. It's just It's irritating, right? It's enough to irritate someone, but not hurt them to keep them conscious. And so we various levels of hypothermia, basically at that point, and what you'd expect coming in wet from wet and those conditions. Now

Nicholas Hill  55:28  
most of the Alaska warriors crew had friends that worked on the Ranger. In fact, one of the warriors crew had a brother on the sister ship. There were two fishery observers on board as well, Beth and Melissa, and they started getting the ship ready to care for any survivors brought to them, gathering supplies to treat hypothermia. The two women gathered blankets and even grabbed potatoes to warm up in the galleys microwave. Unfortunately, when the J Hawk arrived at the Alaska warrior to drop the survivors off, things didn't go according to plan.

Brian Mclaughlin  56:01  
And the plan was to put them in the basket, lower the basket down to the deck of the boat, and just do that one by one. So we approached the Alaska where it was a 200 foot fishing boat, and I thought our normal training at that time was to a 41 foot boat. And we can always do a 41 foot boat, we sure as heck can host to a 200 foot fishing boat, except that there's 200 foot vision boards and 25 foot seas. And it's at night. And so they're pitching around like a toy in a bathtub full of kids. Our first attempt, we put a gentleman in the basket, put them out the door start to lower made our approach into the ship. And what I'm looking at across the cockpit is the mast over the pilot house coming up and down, and it looks like it's going to come through our rotor system. The ship's pitching so violently, it looks like we're going to hit and at some point Rob calls aboard the hoist, which means back off, we're done and the poor guy in the basket. If he was pale and nervous before he came back without color whatsoever for the wild ride, he just went through it. Well, we were trying to get him on. And just it was too hairy. So what we decided to do was make another approach. And Rob called the board the hoist. And we tried a third time and he boarded the hoist. And it seems like yes, that area is too small, maybe we can hoist to the bow. So we slid up to the bow. And again, it's pitching up and it looks like we're going to contact the ship. So we tried another three times to get into a position that would be safe to even start hoisting. And Rob called the board for the now the sixth time, I think. And I said, Rob, do you think we can do this safely? And he said, No, sir, I don't. So that that is if Rob can't make it happen? That's the answer, right, Rob's as good as it come. If he can't make it happen, it's not happening. And I'm watching this unfold and just waiting for some part of the helicopter to hit the superstructure of the ship or the hoist cable to get tangled in something or the person is in the basket hit the ship, there's a million things that could go wrong in this situation we're trying to avoid. So what's going through our heads at this point, though, and the reason we're pushing this so much is because the Monroe is still our next best option, but there's still 70 miles away. And that's at 120 or 30 knots is about 30 to 35 minutes to get there means an hour plus round trip, which means in our heads, if we can't make this happen, and we have to leave scene to go to the Monroe, there's going to be no one left wing come back, no one's coming. So there's certainly a solid amount of self induced pressure to try and make this happen. But as I said, once Rob said, we can't do this safely. That was it. And we departed mark to the position that the closest strobe light was at and headed north to the Monroe.

That was say to date. That was the hardest. That was the hardest decision I've ever had to make.

Because we had no idea how many people were leaving today. And the thing about us is the way we're built is we don't get beat. We go out we're trained to do this and do it well. And when we go out if there's someone in trouble, we're going to help them and I had not been put in a position to that point where we were just out done by the circumstances. The weather Mother Nature one right, we addressed harder than we probably should have to some degree over the Alaska warrior but It was the first time I'd ever had to leave someone on scene and not take him back. It was the hardest decision I've ever had to make. That said, there was no other decision. We had people in the back we had survivors that we could save. And some of them were getting worse. So the only decision at that point was to get him to the Monroe to get them to somewhere safe, and then come back and see what we could do. As

Nicholas Hill  1:00:24  
the J Hawk headed towards them and row, them in rows flight crew got ready to take off in their own helicopter, the dolphin. With pilots TJ Schmitz, and Greg get a mere swimmer, a propeller, and flight mechanic I'll Musgrave onboard. Now the wind is so strong that there's concern that the helicopter will break its torque limit on takeoff. But when a mission involves an opportunity to save lives, the men are authorized to go beyond those limits. Owl and his team prepare for a tricky takeoff maneuver, that you

Al Musgrave  1:00:59  
can't change the overall conditions, right. But you always want to launch with your nose into the wind, because that basically is experienced as airspeed. If you've got a 30 knot wind, it's like you're moving forward at 30 knots, which gives you more control over the aircraft. And it gives you a safer movement, the plan that we discussed, the ship is always moving up and down. And what TJ wanted to do was basically launch at the crest of a wave Springboard us off of the back of the helicopter deck. If you've ever been on a trampoline with two people, and you've had one person dead leg, so that launches you up into the air, that's kind of the same thing. That's always a risk. If he were to say, wait into the trough to try to launch, we've already got momentum going against us. And if we don't lift off fast enough, the debt could come up meet the aircraft. And when you've got situations where you're both pitching and rolling, it doesn't mean that it's going to catch you on the flat either it could catch one tire from the landing gear, and it could really cause a mess. It's very ugly, when you have that kind of a situation. But I'd flown with TJ quite a bit. And I knew that he would not put his crew at risk if he didn't have every confidence that he would be able to make that launch. And it worked great. We got off the back of the ship and got into motion I don't think we even approached or torque limits.

Nicholas Hill  1:02:30  
After a perfect liftoff, the four man crew in the dolphin set off towards the site of the sinking. And as they approached the side of the Alaska Ranger, the J Hawk approaches them in a row with survivors ready to offload to the ship. It's

Brian Mclaughlin  1:02:46  
funny going back to your question, how do you train for this? You don't you can't to some degree. But when we got on scene with the Monroe, you would have thought that we had orchestrated this and planned it out. They were amazing. We'd hover over the flight deck if we lower survivor. And as soon as the basket came down, they'd run out grabbed the basket, pull the person out of the basket, run them down the starboard side of the hanger and down into the belly of the ship and mess deck where the food is prepared because it was warm, and they could start basically using that as a makeshift clinic. And they just did that one by one. And it was just it was amazing to watch them work. And that's what we did till we got all the folks out of the helicopter. When

Nicholas Hill  1:03:27  
the crew of the Dothan arrives at the scene of the sinking, just like the crew of the J hawk. They're astonished by what they encounter. The

Al Musgrave  1:03:35  
ship was gone. It was very dark. We couldn't even see any stars because the the cloud cover. And as we were getting to the site, we started seeing people's emergency lights that are on their exposure suits. So we saw 125 10 in the field was miles. Once you started seeing those little blinking lights, the area that was encompassed by people in the water was huge. They

Nicholas Hill  1:04:04  
also see the two life rafts and determine their strategy for who to go after first, we

Al Musgrave  1:04:10  
made the determination that people in groups were going to be better off than individuals by themselves in that situation, being off alone and not seeing anybody else and not knowing if you're going to be rescued. If you get into kind of a hopeless mentality, your chances of survival go down considerably. Having those other people with you improves your chances of survivability quite a bit. So I did an overflight of the area and made a plan to start picking up those folks that were going to be by themselves that were more likely to drift off and get lost. So we started picking up the edges and working our way toward the center. Now

Nicholas Hill  1:04:50  
just like the crew of the Jayhawk. They ultimately determined that using the basket is the best way forward. Other than speed, there are actually some additional bits benefits to using the basket that owl was able to elaborate on.

Al Musgrave  1:05:04  
There's a special hoisting technique that we use called a hypothermic lift, because when people have been in the water and they've got hypothermia, if you get to the point where your extremities have shut down, all the warm blood kind of moves toward your core to keep you alive, if you put a person in a vertical position, as you're lifting them up, there is the potential for that blood to run back out to the extremities, and move cold blood into your core, and actually cause a heart attack or an increased reaction to the cold, with the hypodermic left to use to strops, which is one under the armpits and the other one around the knees. But that tends to take a very long time to execute properly. With the number of people in the water, we didn't think that was even an option. Because when you're talking about 10, or 15 minutes per person, when you've got over 40 people in the water, that's just not going to work. The helicopter that we're flying has about three hours of maximum of flight time, when you go into a hover, the burn rate on the fuel is much higher. So spending all that time with individuals wasn't really an option. Because of the concern, we determined the basket was the best way to get the survivors up to it would keep the people we were bringing up in a seated position, which is basically what hypothermic lift does as well. In order to save time, we did a basket delivery of the rescue swimmer where the idea was we would put the swimmer down close but not on top of the survivor. So we're talking trying to get within 20 feet but but ideally within 10 feet, and then they could put the survivor in the basket, bring them back up as he was moving to the next one. Now,

Nicholas Hill  1:06:52  
we've already talked about how important it is for the flight mechanic to direct the pilots during this operation. What we haven't talked about yet is how much harder it is for the pilots to stay stationary in the middle of the night with no fixed point of reference. That was very challenging

Al Musgrave  1:07:09  
for TJ because we had driving snow. And so there was no fixed point of reference. Generally, if you're hoisting Do you have a boat, or if you are, say doing a cliff rescue, you've got trees, if you've got something to fix your point of reference, it's much easier to hold stationary relative to what you're operating with. In this situation, they not only didn't have anything fixed to look at, but because we had driving snow, it can really mess with your situational awareness. And you can easily think that you're holding steady while you're actually in motion. So for me, looking down, my point of reference becomes whoever Our target is, and the person that we're trying to get out of the water.

Nicholas Hill  1:07:54  
During my later interview with Brian, he would agree completely with the increased difficulty owl describes here. Absolutely,

Brian Mclaughlin  1:08:02  
having a point of reference makes everything better, especially if it's stationary, right? It gives your brain a point on Earth which to base everything else off of. That's why we do so much training over the water at night. Because it is probably one of the most difficult evolutions you can do. When all of your visual references are moving. Do you have what's happening in front of you and your gauges and that's what you're going off of at this point. I'll

Nicholas Hill  1:08:28  
since their rescue swimmer a down to get the first man and they're able to pull him as well as two additional survivors into the helicopter. The

Al Musgrave  1:08:37  
first three survivors came up without a hitch, just like it should be grabbed the survivor, get him settled in the basket, give me a thumbs up, and I will bring them up, get them into the cabin, we do have a moveable boom on that aircraft suit, boom in and then once they're far enough in the cabin, the ones that could get out, got out the ones that were having trouble. I just dumped the basket on the side and, and dumped them out like a fish and directed the survivors that I was picking up as far back as I could. After the first two, it changed the center of gravity on the aircraft because I put them back in the cargo area where the basket came from. And the pilot had to tell me hey, you got to start moving these guys forward. So we wrapped them in blankets. We had one guy who was sitting in the swimmer seat and and we went on for the next two. Now

Nicholas Hill  1:09:31  
unfortunately during the next rescue, things don't go as the crew had planned.

Al Musgrave  1:09:36  
We got to a group or two people that were in some buoyed fishing nets and that kind of thing. And they were hanging on to that we went to to get them and that was where our biggest problem started. What tends to happen to people, when they've been cold like that once or going into like hypothermic shock. They get delirious and don't really know where they're at Hey, what's going on. And that next guy that we went to pick up was in that state. So the whole time that the swimmer, Abram was pulling him towards the basket, he was basically unresponsive, right? He got him centered in the basket. And I think he was probably just within a second, give me the thumbs up to pick up. And this guy all of a sudden, came to life, right. And he was thrashing around, he was trying to stand up in the basket, he was doing just, he was going, he was all over the place. So he was panicked. I don't think his mental state was such that he obviously didn't get what what needed to happen. So Abraham kept trying to get him in there. And he would be centered ready to go and a wave would come across and wash him back out. Or he would try to stand up and fall out. Or it was just something over and over and over again. And I can't tell you how long we were over with this one guy. But it felt like forever, after what probably had to have been the fourth or fifth fifth attempt to get him where he was supposed to be. He was centered and slightly across the basket. And I went ahead and started taking up slack to get him out with the thought his butt was where it was supposed to be. And as soon as the basket came out, should have slipped in. Right. So I went ahead and started the hoist. And that's exactly what happened. He dropped into the basket, he was stable, we were starting to move up, Abram went on to the next person to get him ready as I was bringing him up. What we didn't know, couldn't know, was the gentleman in that basket, he might have been five, five from descriptions 5556, he was in a double x jumbo survival suit, those companies at that time, just bought the biggest exposure suits that they could get with the thought that everybody will fit in. Right, as he's coming up out of the water, probably most of his body was in the basket. But where the legs of that suit were hanging over the edge, he probably had several 100 pounds of water in the legs of that suit. So at about the halfway point coming up, he starts slipping toward the edge toward the rail of the basket, we were at the point where I felt that I was committed to that hoist, there was no putting him back down in the water. He was closer to the cabin than he was to the water. So the thought was get him up, get him in, we're done, we'll move on to the next one. And of course, at this point, I still don't realize how small the person in that suit was. So he's coming up. And within five to 10 feet of being fully up where he would come in, he slips out a little further, where it's like he's sitting on the edge of that rail, and he's got his hands around the fixed bales, the basket connects to the hoist hook still looks stable, get him up to the top. And if you can imagine he's sitting on that rail, and his legs are dangling down below the edge of the cabin by quite a bit. So I didn't try to boom him in because I knew if I tried to boom him in that his legs would basically cause him to flop the rest of the way out of the basket. And he would fall. And again, I didn't realize at that point that I wasn't really looking at legs, I was looking at bags of water. So I start trying to grab what I thought were his legs and bring them into the cabin. Because if I got his legs in, then I could boom the rest of the basket in. But there's just nothing to get a hold off. At that point, my hands are already numb, even though I was wearing winter gloves. And I don't know if you've ever tried to grab hold of a bag of water. But you can't grip it, it just slips out of your hands. Right. So I was in a really bad spot because I didn't want to try to like bear hug him and bring him in. For the same reason I didn't want to drag him off that basket where he was at. Well in the process of doing that his hips slip off the edge. And now he's just holding on to those bales by his arms all the way outside. And I had been using the survival knife that we keep in the aircraft to cut people's suits to let the water out. But at that point, it was just on the side of the flight mech seat, which I'm not in at that point. I'm on a harness so I can move about in our kind of limited space. And that knife had either rolled out of the way or fallen off the seat for whatever reason I couldn't find it. So as he started to slide out, I did the only thing I could do, which I was trying to avoid before I reached out and just grabbed him and tried to hold on to him. And as he slipped out. I don't know it was like he I can't even tell you how much it weighed. I'm pretty big guy. I'm pretty strong. But that was a terrible weight. And all at once had to have been 400 pounds or more. So even at that I was trying I wanted to just call him in manhandle him in because there was no there's no way I was going to be able to bring him in with the basket. And, and I got a hold of him. And he let go. And I was able to hold on for, I don't know, second, second and a half. But he slipped down our grip and fell. And I don't know, I think we're hovering at around somewhere between 30 and 40 feet. But the and it was terrible thing because, I mean, all I could see he had with that hood on was his eyes, and a bunch of hair in front of his face. And the look of hair. That was in his eyes. He's gonna, that's gonna be with me the rest of my life. But he went out, I was thinking, okay, we can still get him. I told the pilots. And at this point, as I was trying to work with him, communication had stopped, right. I was so focused on trying to get him where he needed to be. Get him inside, I wasn't talking through things. I don't know how long it took before I was able to, but I remember saying we lost him. And pilots like last year we lost, they were worried that I was talking about Abram that something had happened to him. And I said, Now that survivor, they backed off a little bit where they could see him. But when he went down in the water, he bought back up and stayed facedown. And the whole time they're watching, hoping that he would roll over, but he never rolled over. I wanted to go back and get him. But I made the call, we gotta get who we can get. And I think it was the right call at the time. And it was hard thing. When you live and work in those situations, you'd learn to compartmentalize, and you got to put what's happening now out of your thoughts, so that you can continue to do what needs to be done. And yeah, so that's what we did, we moved on to the next person.

Nicholas Hill  1:17:13  
Now, there was another important reason that the crew had to move on when they did see there was another challenge to consider.

Kalee Thompson  1:17:23  
The big challenge with helicopter operations is that the helicopters have a limited range, there's only so far that they can go before they run out of gas. And when you're dealing with Alaska, the distances are just so immense. So obviously, they have to be doing the calculations of once we get out there, we'd need to have enough gas to get back. And we need to factor in how much fuel is going to be used while actually carrying out the rescue.

Al Musgrave  1:17:53  
So we had three, given their size, and how we've had to stack a man we, we might have been able to squeeze six, total. And but again, it's not just a matter of the space you have in the cabin, each person that comes up represents an increased fuel burn, because you're having to keep that much more weight in the air. So we went on to the next person sent down the basket, he came up without a hitch, we moved on to another group of people that were all linked arms together. And there were four in that group. So when we got to that group, he made the determination of who was in the worst shape, and set him up in the basket. So he comes up with no problems. Now we've got five survivors in the cabin with us. We knew that we basically had space and fuel for one more person at that point. We talked to a boy when he came back up about leaving him on scene and he said, well, as long as you believe raft with me, I'm fine with that.

Nicholas Hill  1:18:51  
Just to interrupt for a quick second, he agrees to stay on scene with a raft. Can you imagine that? Knowing that they're going to leave you in the middle of the ocean, in monstrous waves in the dark, with no specific estimated time of return, and agreeing to that plan. That's what rescue swimmer Abram Heller is agreeing to. It's remarkable.

Al Musgrave  1:19:17  
We determined that the thing to do would be to leave our crew rat, so that anybody that was around would be able to get on the raft. And I pulled the crew raft out and got it set in the door. And there's an order that you do that in. You don't want to inflate the raft in the cabin, but you don't drop it out without it being inflated. So you get it into position you get where you're going to launch it or kick it out from and then you pull the inflation handle as you're kicking it out the door. Right. So it's inflating as it's falling into the ocean, and it's a self riding thing. It's got weights on the bottom. Basically the gas cylinder that inflates it is on the bottom. That's the Zion for six people, there were three survivors left in the water. And at that point, we got him in position brought the next person up, moved off and inflated and kicked off the life raft, it landed, right where it needed to be, the wind pushed it into the crew. From there, we went into an orbit, we watched him get all the survivors up into the raft. And then we dropped what's called a data marker buoy. And basically, that should follow them wherever they're drifting to make sure that we're able to mark the position where they're at, even if we don't have radio communication. We did that and then started heading back to the ship.

Nicholas Hill  1:20:37  
Now you've heard both Kaylee and owl talk about this concept of fuel burn, of constantly having to check the amount of fuel you have remaining for the rescue. This risk would plague both helicopter crews throughout the operation. Back at them in row, Brian and the J Hawk had unloaded all of their survivors. They wanted to get back on scene for rescue as soon as possible. But they were low on fuel too. So they had to improvise

Brian Mclaughlin  1:21:05  
because of the sea states because offloading everything it took us a little longer than I thought. And I did some calculations and realized we're going to need some gas. So even though we can't land on them in row, what we can do is this operation called helicopter in flight refueling, I lower my hoist hook, I hook it into this giant fuel hose, bring the fuel hose up to the helicopter while we're hovering next to him, plug it into the cabin, and we start taking on gas while we're hovering next to the ship. The interesting thing in this particular case is you talked about training for all this stuff. No one on my crew had ever heard before. The day prior to this mission. We got to go out with them in row it was sunny and beautiful. The seas were calm. I was in the right seat because I only fly when it's nice out. That's a personal rule of mine. But we we did this training first time we all high five Hey, great Hyper Training, we'll never use that again. Go home and play some video games. And now here we are about 16 hours later, and 25 foot seas. It's nighttime, it's snowing, and we're high furring. Now next is cutter that's pitching and 25 foot seas. And I will say this also the cutter, they have to get on a course that gives a better ride. So the crew can now run out and lay that fuel hose out on the deck so that we can save within coming to harvest. So they got to turn course and turn back. That's usually about a 30 to 40 minute evolution. They did it in five to 10. And I don't know how they bent the laws of physics so well it I just, I can't speak highly enough of the cutter crew that morning. They were absolutely a machine. So we took on fuel as much as we could. And as as we're taking on fuel. I was thinking alright, we're gonna we're gonna top this baby off again, because we're gonna need a lot of gas to get down there and do some more stuff. And that's when we heard the cutter say stop low stuff low stuff low. And I said, Hey, did you guys signal the car didn't stop giving us gas because I were about 800 pounds short of what I was hoping for. And they said no, we know what's going on.

Nicholas Hill  1:22:57  
As it turns out, the reason the Monroe had suddenly stopped giving the Jay hot gas was because the crew of the dolphin had called in, and their field problems were far worse. Now remember the series of events here, the J Hawk was originally trying to drop their survivors off at the Alaska warrior. When that proved impossible, they pivoted to dropping survivors off at the Monroe. When they did that the Monroe had to stop moving towards the sight of the sinking. And because they stopped moving towards the side of the sinking, they were no longer closing the gap between themselves and the dolphin helicopter. So the crew and the dolphin had calculated how much field time they had, assuming the Monroe would be closing that gap. Still with me. So now the crew of the dolphin is realizing that the Monroe is a lot further away than they anticipated. And they will barely have enough fuel to get back at all.

Al Musgrave  1:23:57  
I hit through all of our fuel calculations into a mess because they were actually further away from where we started than we were when we launched. So that made our fuel stretch a lot shorter, and we had to declare to the ship. We're not declaring an implied emergency but we are really low. We're we're going to be really close. It's going to be really tight getting back. We

Brian Mclaughlin  1:24:22  
heard TJ Schmitz call in and say, Hey, this the 6515 We are 20 minutes out. We got five survivors 36 minutes to splash, but you do the math. 20 minutes out 36 minutes a splash means they've got a 60 minute window before they run out of gas. So Mr. Splash means minutes before we crash into water. And so we heard that we're like, holy crap, get rid of the fuel hose right? So Rob and O'Brien again, just getting fuel hose they got it on deck disconnected the hoist truck and we get the heck out of the way so the cutter could then again turn towards the 65 closer distance and get them on scene. Are we headed back down for our second run?

Al Musgrave  1:25:02  
Well, the ship broke off operations with this in flight refuel. They did an emergency breakaway disconnect. The ship went up on turbans as they turned toward us, so that we're basically trying to close the gap. We knew that we were really only going to have one shot to get on the deck and get down safely. So the ships steaming toward us once we got inside, they turn into the wind, we came around to do our landing assessment, and kudos to our pilots. We hit the deck right where we needed to be first go we managed to pop down right, right the way that we needed to. Just

Nicholas Hill  1:25:40  
like he did during takeoff pilot TJ Schmitz had landed the dolphin perfectly in harsh conditions and averted crisis. And across the rescue operation, things were starting to look more positive, because one group had finally made it to the site of the sinking. The sister ship, the Good Samaritan ship, the Alaska warrior. The second they got on scene, the first thing they did was get to the life rafts. They tried several methods of getting those in the raft into the boat. First, they tried to tie a line to the raft, but it was too short. So every time the ship swayed, it would yank the raft out of the water and drop it harshly back down. Next, they tried to hang a ladder for the men in the raft to climb up. But with survival suits and thick neoprene gloves on and their hands completely numb, nobody can hold on to it. Finally they improvised a unique solution. They attach the top end of the ladder to the end of a crane on the ship's deck. They have the survivors wrap their arms as tightly as they could around the ladders rungs at the bottom and they use the crane to lift them in out of the water one by one. Just like the crew of them in row, the crew on the Alaska warrior was ready for the survivors. The Warriors fishery observers helped them into dry clothes and wrap them in blankets. They tried giving them hot coffee as well, but their hands were shaking too badly to drink it. After getting the men in the first raft. They found the second and began pulling them into the boat as well. Up in the wheelhouse Captain Scott Cree is scanning the waves. The Warrior had saved 22 people out of the two life rafts between the two helicopter crews. The Coast Guard had reportedly rescued another eight team that left seven men on accounted for. So Scott and his crew continued the search.

Brian Mclaughlin  1:27:27  
So they're worried had made it on the scene. Mentally for me, this is a big turning point in the day. The Warrior thought they had picked up 21 or 22 people out of the rafts and I'm sitting there going, how the hell did they do that? That's awesome. Like this morning's going way different than I would have bet on an hour ago, right that we can actually do this, right? If there's five to seven people left, we can actually do this. And so you're just you re energized. You go, the more hope going into the second run. So we head down and we knew Abram Heller was on scene in a raft. With three other survivors. We see the strobe light we had right to Abrams raft. And because Abrams on the raft with the survivors, we elect to keep O'Brien our swimmer in the helicopter. Abram puts a survivor in the basket, we bring it up, and O'Brien can treat the survivors as they come to the cabin. Because the rescue swimmers are EMTs as well. Abram jumped out of the raft, he loaded the survivor into the basket, we pulled up and then we brought Abram into the helicopter as well. And from there, we went to this other strobe light. And this was the first person we would come to, that was not splashing or signaling us in any way. He was on his back, but just floating, and we're on top of him, and he's not making any motion, which is pretty indicative, if it's 8am. He's been in the water for somewhere between three and five hours. So we did a direct deployment though, Brian goes down, but he never disconnects from the helicopter. You do that sometimes with survivors that are unresponsive is one of the techniques we can use for people who are severely hypothermic. So we get overhead and O'Brien gets to work and was trying to get this crew member in a position that we can hoist them safely. Meanwhile, Steve's flying, rubs hoisting O'Brien's in the water, and I scan out to my left, and I see the Alaska warrior. And I see their green, starboard side light. And now I see both their green and red side lights, running lights. And I see them constantly, which means they're headed right at us. And I can see there were at 40 feet over the water, and their balls doing this. And I look like holy crap. We're gonna get hit by a boat. I called him and I said, Alaska. Where is the Coast Guard helicopter. We're about 500 yards off your body. You see us and they're like, No, we don't see. And then I said, Yeah, you're gonna hit us like we're picking up a survivor right now. One of the crew members, I can't move. I need you to turn your course and It's almost like there was a 10 count maybe where He's sticking his head out the window and he goes, Oh, yeah, we got you. They peeled off the side. But literally we almost got run into by a ship in the middle of this case is if things weren't hairy enough. So we hope we get the thumbs up from O'Brien man and he's ready for the pickup and we boys to the gentleman up to the door. As I mentioned before, though, his his suit was filled with water. So we can't get O'Brien up high enough to where he can just normally push this now 300 Plus pound person filled with water in the cabin. So Brian, actually, I don't know how he does this. He somehow dislocates every joint in his body takes a knife out and starts cutting the legs on the gentleman suit to drain out some of the water to make them lighter. And that helps him get him in. And now Rob is relaying messages from O'Brien and they said that the gentleman had no no vitals, no respiration, no, no pulse. And didn't think he was alive. And so I made the point to look back at the condition of gentleman and he had ice on them. And it's it was partly the lights in the cabin, but the color, it's hard to describe the the color. Right? He had no color and he just had Vietnam. I made the call with with O'Brien that we would position him in a corner of the cabin put a blanket over because we had three other survivors three of his crew members in their cabin with him at that point, we didn't want them to have to stare at the gentleman. So we did that we continued searching at that point we will get down we cleared all the rest of the rafts that were out there made sure we get down low make sure no one was in the rafts. No one was left in there. And at some point the three that we had started to go south. So we departed scene again to get these four gentlemen back to the ship as

Nicholas Hill  1:31:47  
the Jayhawk returned to them in row and lowered their remaining survivors to the deck. The crew that had already been rescued cheered, the two helicopters were ready to go back out for a third run. But it was soon announced that the search was over. The Alaska warrior had recovered the final three crew members. Now all 47 people were accounted for. They would go back together as a team. The Monroe and the warrior opened up their gift shop to the survivors, giving them free sweatshirts and supplies. The rest of them in rows and warriors crew donated shirts, pants, shoes and snacks. Overall, the men were doing remarkably well. But there was one big problem left. See the cutter Monroe had reported 22 men found 13 In the first Jayhawk pickup five from the dolphin and four more recovered from the Jayhawk on the helicopter second run. But the 13 that they had reported from the first Jayhawk pickup had been incorrect.

Brian Mclaughlin  1:32:48  
I didn't take note of how many people we put out of the helicopter because we're not keeping any passengers. We're putting everybody out that's here. So I like I said earlier, I had counted 13. It will turn out in the long run that there are only 12 On that first run, which would come back later because there is obviously that miscount winner involve a lot more searching for a couple more days.

Nicholas Hill  1:33:10  
The miscount meant that there was one person still missing, and it turned out to be the fish master Japanese crew member Satoshi Kondo the Monroe U turned and headed directly back to the side of the sinking. using sophisticated modeling they were able to determine where Satoshi might have been taken by the wind and currents. Now the Jayhawk crew was way past their allotted time. So they returned to St. Paul switched careers and the helicopter rejoined the search as well. Two

Brian Mclaughlin  1:33:39  
more days we searched for two days, we searched with cutters and see what there is in helicopters and in other fishing boats. And we I don't know what the number is, but we had to have covered 10s of 1000s of square miles to just search for him. Fish for the fish master Satoshis

Nicholas Hill  1:33:54  
body was never recovered. The last time he had been seen. He was sitting quietly inside the wheelhouse of the ship as it went down. His survival suit unzipped calmly smoking a cigarette. There

Al Musgrave  1:34:08  
were eyewitness accounts from the crew members that they basically watched the fish master go down with the boat. Everything

Nicholas Hill  1:34:16  
had happened so quickly. By the time David Seidel returned for his next communication shift the next day, the entire thing was pretty much over.

David Seidl  1:34:26  
I think when we came back the next night and seen that team that we believed were just absolutely destroyed because they were talking to everyone all throughout the day about losted they were now it's kind of like oh, this was a this was a big deal. And I got to go back into like the distressed room all by myself again. But everything was done by that point in time. So just watching them recover from that and switch up and then that night was starting to process what happened and how it happened in all the parts but that well it was happening live but that could just focus on the only thing into distress, which was talking to them and getting all the information that Could from

Nicholas Hill  1:35:00  
the next day the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board convened a joint marine board of investigation into the loss of the Alaska Ranger. The Marine board is the Coast Guard's most formal type of accident analysis reserved for incidents that result in multiple deaths. It had been seven years since the last marine board had been convened. They questioned all witnesses looking for evidence of incompetence misconduct on skillfulness, or willful violation of the law that may have contributed to the accident. In total, the Marine board took seven days of testimony. During lunch the Alaska Ranger fishermen described what they thought had contributed to the sinking. The engineers didn't keep consistent watch, there was regular drinking on the boat, often among the ship's officers. The ranger had been traveling through ice more forcefully than they had experienced on other vessels. There were constant arguments between the fish master and the former captain. But not everything had gone poorly. According to the investigation, it was apparent that some of the newest safety regulations had worked. For example, the newly required strobe lights had saved countless lives in the dark. And though the abandoned ship procedures had been anything but smooth, life rafts were each successfully launched by only one or two people. The ship ladders had worked as well. And 80% of those who had been through recent safety training had gotten into a life raft. For those who had not been recently trained. That number was 38%. Everyone who made it into a life raft survived. The board also looked at the operations of the Coast Guard. Immediately after the rescue, they tested all Coast Guard crew members for drugs and alcohol, which came back negative. The men were questioned independently of one another, and asked what they would have done differently to mitigate the situation. A full court was held on base with other pilots allowed to question the crew on their decision making. Ultimately, it was found that these crew members did the absolute best they could given the situation at hand. They navigated the dark, the weather in the high seas, and the largest separation any of them had ever been involved with employing five aircraft, seven crews and good samaritan ships, all of which centered on the Coast Guard Cutter the Monroe and their operations team. The teamwork and the unseen strategy and coordination had resulted in survival for 42 of the 47 crew members. 18 months later investigator Liam LaRue presented his group's findings to President Barack Obama's recently appointed head of the Transportation Safety Board, maintaining that the ship had sunk due to the loss of its rudder as a result of its conversion to a fishing trawler years before keeping it lower in the water. If the Rangers watertight integrity had been intact, even the complete loss of rudder would not have led to the loss of the vessel. But testimony revealed that there was a permanent breach in the rudder room bulkhead, and at least one of the ships watertight doors had been leaking before the incident. I

Kalee Thompson  1:38:06  
think the thing that really caused the Alaska ranger to sank and was the most shocking in a way was the actual boat itself, these boats themselves. You know, when you hear about a boat sinking in the middle of the ocean, the immediate response is usually to assume that it was terrible weather. And it was an act of God, you hear that? It's an act of God. It's a dangerous profession, yes, but some boat sank and some boats down. And over time, you can start to see what kind of boats are sinking. And in this particular case, when there is a more deadly incident like this, please investigative reports often reveal that the ship itself was not seaworthy. And that was absolutely the case with the Alaska Rangers. The kind of incredible thing is that a ship of this size that's going to have almost 50 people and its crew is going out there when it's in such poor physical condition.

Nicholas Hill  1:39:05  
The final blow to the Ranger came when the ship shifted into reverse. Now it turns out the reason it did that is because it lost power. See these chips were actually designed to automatically shift into reverse at the loss of power, the idea being that it would be better to suddenly back away from whatever they were heading towards than to ram right into it. But in this case, shifting into reverse causes the water to come into the ship faster, and the life rafts they launch to end up further away from the ship. Ultimately, the officers of the Alaska Ranger were not found to be at fault. And even if they had been, every officer had gone down with the ship. I asked our guests what went right here. Why did ultimately 42 of the 47 crew members on board survive, given how many conditions were stacked against them. At night,

Kalee Thompson  1:40:00  
I think there was an element of luck, like the location of the cutter Monroe, there was also a good Samaritan fishing vessel that was crucial to the rescue. But from the Coast Guard perspective, they trained for this, they were ready for this sort of scenario. Even though this was such an extreme situation, in terms of the number of people involved, I think the scope of the situation just made it very unique because it was so complicated and so many different ways. And so many different people and rescue crews were involved in helping to save those lives. A lot of these professional rescuers had certainly been involved in deadly sinkings in the past, but much more common were smaller boats, where there was more time between when you realized that the boat was in distress. And when the boat was actually lost. The fact that the entire ship was lost fairly quickly, the sea conditions were difficult, but certainly not anything that most of the people on those rescue crews had experienced before. So they were very well prepared. And I think that was an obvious contrast that comes out from this incident as the very competent preparation of the Coast Guard for this kind of complex scenario, versus the very incompetent preparation from the standpoint of safety onboard this type of ship. So just all the factors together, I think made this truly extraordinary. It really is an inspiring example of teamwork and extremely harsh, dangerous conditions.

Al Musgrave  1:41:39  
Outside of that one incident, I don't know how it could have gone much better. You don't sink in the middle of the bearing in wintertime in a storm with that many people and have that kind of, of live recovery. Right? That just doesn't happen. It's really incredible to see how all those parts came together under really the worst circumstances to have a net overall good outcome. That's why we while the hours that we fly on a normal basis,

Nicholas Hill  1:42:12  
the Coast Guard crews that responded to the Alaska Ranger piled up awards. rescue swimmers O'Brien star Harlow and Abram Heller were each awarded one of aviation's highest honors, the Distinguished Flying Cross, OWL offered his own reflection on the significance of these missions.

Al Musgrave  1:42:31  
I won't say that I've always loved everything the Coast Guard does, but those core missions. Those are very worthy. Those are missions that I don't know. It gives a lot of meaning to my life to have been a part of that organization and made a career out of it.

Nicholas Hill  1:42:49  
The official motto of the US Coast Guard is simper paratus, a Latin phrase that means always ready. And on the night of the sinking of the Alaska Ranger. They certainly were I hope you enjoyed today's episode. I'd like to give special thanks to Brian owl, David and Kaylee for their time and their unique experience and expertise. I'd also like to take this moment to recommend you read the book, deadliest SEE THE UNTOLD STORY BEHIND THE GREATEST rescue in coastguard history by Kaylee Thompson, which provides far more detail on these events. I'll add a link in the shownotes Today's show was directed and produced by me with music from Alex girls. If you know of a story of an act of impact that you'd like for me to tell, send me an email info at acts of If you like today's episode, please follow us wherever you listen to podcasts, and consider leaving a review. It will help us to spread the word about the show. You can view more information about today's episode online at acts of Thank you for listening