The Coast Guard has suspended the search for the missing six-man crew of the Destination, but the mystery of what happened to the fishing vessel, part of the elite Bering Sea crab fleet, continues.
Early on the morning of Feb. 11, the Coast Guard received an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) alert from the 95-foot Destination in the waters northwest of St. George, Alaska. Aircrews were deployed, and, according to a Coast Guard press release, located debris included the transmitting EPIRB, a life ring from the vessel, buoys, tarps, and an oil sheen.
After 21 coordinated searches by the 17th District Command Center in Juneau covering approximately 5,730 square nautical miles, the search for the crew was halted on the afternoon of Feb. 13. Crew members were identified by Fox News as Capt. Jeff Hathaway, Larry O’Grady, Charles Glenn Jones, Raymond Vincler, Kai Hamik, and Darrik Seibold.
An investigation into the sinking will have little to go on. Speaking to the Seattle Times, Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Brian Dykens said the National Weather Service had issued a warning Saturday that temperatures could produce a freezing spray that would ice gear and add weight to vessels (something veteran captains and crews are accustomed to dealing with), while local Mayor Pat Pletnikoff added the concerns of St. George Island’s notoriously strong tides and Saturday’s powerful squalls.
On Feb. 12, while the search was still ongoing, Capt. Johnathan Hillstrand of the Time Bandit told Seattle’s KOMO News, “I just got home, and it was like the most evil, cold season. We’ve been lucky the last couple years, but this is heavy freezing spray and -40 and a terrible season.” He added, “We took on 200 tons of ice and it took around 28 hours to get the ice off the boat. … We were in trouble.”
— Kara Kostanich (@KaraKostanich) February 15, 2017
Though the Destination was not a boat featured on Discovery’s Emmy-winning reality series Deadliest Catch, Hillstrand’s fellow captains on the show joined the Coast Guard and the boat’s owners in expressing both their condolences to the crew’s family and friends and thanks to the shoreline volunteers and Good Samaritan vessels who aided in the search.
In a series of tweets, Capt. Keith Colburn of the Wizard said: “The loss of the crew of F/V Destination has hit all of us in the fleet hard. Capt. Jeff was a consummate professional, an ally on the sea… and a good friend on land. Words are not adequate to express the respect I hold for Capt. Jeff, his engineer Larry and the crew… We fished side by side for 25 years. Prayers for the crew, their families and friends, and thank you to the @USCGAlaska … and good samaritan ships that responded. We will never forget the fishermen of the F/V Destination.”
Colburn also shared a link to a crowdfunding page for the family of Jones, who leaves behind his wife, Rosalie, and three children (an 11-year-old daughter from Rosalie’s previous relationship, their 3-year-old special needs son, and a baby girl who has not yet turned 1).
Northwestern captain Sig Hansen told Fox News he’d been close friends with Hathaway for 23 years. “I’ve learned a lot from him and know for a fact that he is calm under pressure,” Hansen said. “When the Northwestern hit the beach a few years ago, there was only one boat in the area that had a tow. I was in a state of panic and thought we were done. It was Jeff who walked me through this ordeal on what to do over the radio. I did exactly what he told me and sure enough, the stern came around and we got off the beach. It’s what saved us.”
There was no mayday issued before the EPIRB alert, leading Hansen to believe that whatever happened to the Destination happened fast. “If there was trouble, he would have notified someone of any impeding danger,” Hansen told Fox News. “I just don’t see this as human error.”
According to the Alaska Dispatch News, it’s the deadliest Bering Sea crabbing disaster in more than 20 years. In 1996, seven people were never found after the F/V Pacesetter capsized. In 2005, five crewmen were killed (and one was rescued) when the F/V Big Valley sank. The hunt for that vessel was chronicled in a Season 1 episode of Deadliest Catch as captains featured on the show learned the news and assisted in the search.
Update: In a statement to Yahoo TV, Sarah Whalen, EVP of Development for Original Productions and executive producer of Deadliest Catch, says: “This tragedy has been felt by all. When a skilled veteran captain and his crew are lost, it underscores the very real dangers of this profession. We were filming season 13 of Deadliest Catch when Destination was lost. Captains Sig, Keith and Jake [Anderson] are all deeply saddened by the loss of their friend and fellow captain — as is the entire film crew. It’s a constant reminder of the risks of all of the jobs on the Bering Sea.”