Alaska’s unpredictable weather and notoriously rough seas can be unforgiving. This resonates loudly for two crewmembers aboard the fishing vessel Arctic Wind who narrowly escaped death on January 22, 2018.
The fishing vessel Arctic Wind and crew were in Bristol Bay. Winds were gusting to 45 mph with driving rain making it difficult for vessels to operate as normal.
It was still dark out and the Arctic Wind crew was about to set their lines. When the crew was finishing setting the slack line and hooking it to the door, the vessel took an extra-large wave. The boat surged and Paul Hedington, a crewmember, was on the wrong side of the line. Hedington became tangled in gear and line that was swept to sea, dragging him overboard.. Vince Short, another crewmember, attempted to grab Hedington but ended up going overboard in the process.
The crew of the Arctic Wind was horrified, watching their friends succumb to the ice-cold Alaskan water.
“It’s every captain’s worst fear,” said Marc Lashua, the Arctic Wind captain. “I had a pit in my stomach, but I didn’t have time to think about it. We needed to get going and get them out of the water.”
In an instance, Lashua grabbed his VHF radio and announced on Channel 16, “Man overboard! Man overboard!”
The crew of the Arctic Wind located the men overboard and quickly sprang into action. Lashua spotted Hedington’s lights and reflectors on his bright yellow helmet and immediately commanded his crew to throw a life ring and use a sling to bring him back aboard the Arctic Wind.
A good Samaritan. fishing vessel Golden Pisces, was fishing near by. When they heard the “man overboard” over Channel 16, they quickly responded and were able to safely rescue Hedington.
“When the Golden Pisces captain radioed that he had my other crewmember, it was a huge relief,” said Lashua. “It was wonderful to hear them say he was alive.”
Lashua stated that the crewmembers banged their heads on the underside of the boat. He believes that if the crewmembers were not wearing their helmets, they would not have survived going overboard.
For Lashua’s vessel and others owned by that company, it is regulation for every crewmember to wear a Coast Guard approved heavy-duty float coat and a helmet, which both have reflective tape and lights.
Scott Wilwert, Alaska’s Coast Guard fishing vessel safety coordinator, was grateful to hear Arctic Wind crewmembers wear helmets when fishing. He stated it is something the Coast Guard recommends and supports.
“The equipment, whether required by regulation or not, and conducting proper training and drills will increase anyone’s chance of surviving an incident at sea,” said Wilwert. “I believe the Arctic Wind crewmembers were able to be found quickly because they were wearing helmets with reflective tape.”
Commercial fisherman can visit www.fishsafewest.info to identify what safety equipment is needed on their fishing vessel. It also provides news and information regarding safety alerts. When a person inputs their fishing vessel’s information into the website, it will create a checklist of safety equipment that is necessary to have onboard. Items such as immersion suits, personal floatation devices, life rings, emergency positions indicating radio beacons, fire extinguishers, flares and first aid kits will be on the checklist. All commercial fishing vessels that operate beyond three nautical miles from the territorial sea baseline are required to receive a Coast Guard dockside exam.
“When someone gets in a raft, turns on an EPIRB, gets into a survival suit or wears a PFD, we are hopeful they can be rescued by the Coast Guard,” said Wilwert. “It’s likely the equipment along with their training was in part responsible for the survival of an incident at sea.”
Lashua stated that his crewmembers conduct monthly safety drills, because they never know when an incident might occur.
“During the summer, I’ll place someone in the water or I’ll toss a buoy in without the crew knowing,” said Lashua. “It’s a surprise and it really tests their skills, but it prepares them for when it does happen.”
Fortunately, for the Arctic Wind crew their preparation paid off and they were prepared for the worst. Through their training, use of proper safety gear and the assistance of the fishing vessel Golden Pisces crew, two lives were saved that bitterly cold January morning.