Coast Guard Hears Day 4 Testimony in Alaska Ranger Investigation

DUTCH HARBOR, Alaska – The Marine Board of Investigation into the Alaska Ranger casualty began Monday’s session by taking testimony from Capt. Craig Lloyd, Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Munro.

According to Lloyd’s testimony the Munro received the Alaska Ranger’s mayday at 2:52 a.m.

Munro immediately made best speed to the Alaska Ranger’s position, using their turbine engines, which propels the ship faster than the diesel engines. At 5:55 a.m. the Munro launched their helicopter. They were about 50 miles away.

Due to the stops they had to make to accommodate helicopter operations they did not reach the scene before the helicopters and the Alaska Warrior picked up the crew of the Alaska Ranger.

The MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter was unable to lower the survivors they had on board to the Alaska Warrior due to icy decks and rigging in the way of the basket.

The helicopter radioed at 6:12 a.m. to the Munro that they were en route with survivors that needed emergency medical care.

At 6:44 the helicopter crew began lowering survivors. Of the 12 survivors onboard the helicopter nine were ambulatory and three were non-ambulatory. As the 12th member was lowered the helicopter crew passed that that was the last survivor on board.

The MH-60 helicopter began to conduct in-flight refueling (HIFR). Usually this operation takes 15 minutes and the ship stays at minimal speed.

The Munro broke off the HIFR with the MH-60 in order to dash to rendezvous with the HH-65 helicopter, which was fuel critical. The HH-65 landed on board with five survivors and 18 minutes of fuel left until splash down.   The MH-60 later returned with four more crewmembers onboard.

A total of 21 crewmembers were delivered to the Munro. One man was non-responsive; he was immediately taken to sickbay where the medical crewmen conducted CPR and intubated the crewman. CPR efforts continued for 45 minutes before the flight surgeon directed them to cease efforts.

The Munro departed at 11:00 a.m. when it appeared all Alaska Ranger crewmembers were accounted for.  At 12:35 p.m. Coast Guard District 17 North Pacific Rescue Coordination Center notified the Munro that one crewman still missing. The Munro returned to the scene and resumed search operations.

Lloyd said the discrepancy in numbers was noted during the flight operations but the crew was more focused on getting the helicopter refueled and back to the scene to rescue more crew.

The Munro conducted drug and alcohol testing on the helicopter crew as directed by District 17 NPRCC.

During the search for the missing crewman, Satoshi Konno, Lloyd said, “We saw a lot of debris. The MH-60 swimmer was lowered into the life rafts to check for survivors.”

The lawyers for the Fishing Company of Alaska did question Lloyd for clarification on operations and the timeline of events.

Evan Holmes, of Neosho, Missouri, was next to testify. He was the factory manager on the Alaska Ranger and had worked on board the Alaska Ranger for about two years.  He was a shift leader and became the factory manager on the previous underway tri. Holmes worked a 12 hours on six hours off schedule.

According to Holmes it was about 2 a.m. and he had gone to the galley to watch a movie. The telephone began to ring in the galley. “I thought someone was playing with the phone,” he said. Then phone in the kitchen portion of the galley was ringing too.

Holmes ran up to the bridge to see if something was going on but before he reached it David Silveira told them they were taking on water in the ramp room.

Holmes and Chris Cossich, both members of the emergency squad, made their way to the ramp room on the port side through the factory and the harbor generator room. They saw a foot to a foot and a half of water in the ramp room.

“We didn’t have our boots on,” said Holmes. Holmes had on tennis shoes and Cossich was wearing flip-flops. They did not want to go through the water to the portable dewatering pump next to the bench in the shop, but decided to in order to get the pump.  Holmes, Cossich, Indio Sol and another crewman began setting up the pump.

Before they fired up the pump the crew was directed to the wheelhouse to don survival suits by the Assistant Engineer Lundy. Holmes put the hose back inside the door, but left the watertight door open because more crewmen were coming up the stairs behind him. Holmes went through the house to make sure no crewmembers were still in any staterooms.

In the wheelhouse he donned his survival suit and heard the mayday call being made by Silveira, the Mate. Holmes confirmed what other crewmen have said that after donning their suits they rotated through the wheelhouse to stay warm until they abandoned ship.

Holmes said they took a roll call to make sure everyone was accounted for. He also stated the stern was sitting lower. A wave came over the stern and washed the nets into the sea.   After the wave came over the stern the ship took an “unnatural shake to it and a hard list to starboard,” said Holmes. He said the vessel stayed rolled over to starboard.

“You got your normal rolls in the ocean, but it felt like a rogue wave that hit real hard and it shook,” said Holmes.

Once the ship rolled the crew was directed by the Captain to launch the rafts. Holmes saw two of the rafts inflate in the water. They were tied to the rail, but one broke away.

Holmes said he was probably the fifth man in the water. He held onto the line to his raft at first, but waves began to pull him under so he let go.   “It was so strong pulling underneath,” said Holmes. “So it was let go or drown right there.”

He and two other crewmen hooked up to form a chain. A helicopter rescued all three; the helicopter crew tried to lower him to the Alaska Warrior, but decided it was too risky and delivered Holmes and the other crewmen to the Coast Guard Cutter Munro.

The board asked for more clarification on the factory operations, shipboard operations and the role of the Japanese fish master.  When asked what the role of the fish master was Holmes replied, “Find the fish!” The fish master also made sure the nets were set correctly and occasionally observed the factory operations.

When asked about the drug and alcohol policy Holmes said the company has a no tolerance policy. He also confirmed that a crewman had been let go at the end of the previous voyage for coming back to the boat smelling of alcohol and being obnoxious. He never observed anyone drinking at sea.

The lawyers for the company asked a few clarifying questions before Holmes was released.

Following Holmes testimony the Board called Gwen Raines, one of two National Marine Fisheries Observers who were he Alaska Ranger.

Raines made one short voyage to the Pribilof Islands before returning to Dutch Harbor.  She remarked that the fishing was unremarkable, but that there was a lot of ice around. She had just come from fishing in the ice so it didn’t strike her as odd.

After returning to Dutch harbor to offload fish and change nets, the Alaska Ranger left on the fateful voyage.  Raines stated that the vessel had a port list at departure. She said the crew indicated the full fuel tanks tended to give the ship a port list. They explained to her that after some of the fuel was used up the vessel would even out. She said the list and steaming in the trough of the waves made for a miserable ride.

Raines was asleep in her rack when the phone rang. She answered and there was no one on the line so she proceeded to the wheelhouse to see if they had been trying to reach her.   When she reached the wheelhouse Silveira said, “This is bad – really, really bad.” She heard Rodney Lundy, the Assistant Engineer, telling Silveira that there was water in the rudder room.

She saw Lundy and the emergency crew go below to partition off the areas that had flooding to save the ship. She said the Chief Engineer, Daniel Cook, wanted to prevent it from reaching the engine room.  Raines said the crew was gone at least 30 minutes. She became concerned about the duration they were gone.

Meanwhile on the bridge, Silveira was communicating to the Alaska Warrior and made the mayday call to the Coast Guard. He kept a five-minute communications schedule with the Coast Guard.

The engines started to sputter and the lights flickered. Shortly after that Silveira stated he had lost steering and the vessel was moving astern.

Raines had put on her survival suit and Lundy activated her emergency position radio-indicating beacon on the wrist of her suit. She had Lundy activate it because the gloves on survival suit did not allow her to do so herself.

She said she went to her raft assignment and when it was launched they couldn’t see if it deployed. She called back to Silveira. He started to come out of the wheelhouse to assess the situation and the painter line to the raft parted.

On the other side the painter was still connected to the raft, but it was a long way down. She saw one man climb down. She attempted to do the same, but fell into the water. Once in the water she found the painter and pulled herself to the life raft. She said two of the Japanese technicians pulled her in. She did not watch the ship go down, but did listen to the conversations of others. They said the vessel sank in about 15 minutes.

Raines was asked about the condition of the vessel. She recalled a laundry list of safety items that she has to inspect to determine if she should sail on a vessel. She said several items on the list must be correct or she is not allowed to get underway on the vessel.  There are also discretionary items.  She was concerned with two items, but decided to remain on board and report the items later.

When asked about drills she said only one was conducted while she was onboard. It took place at 2 a.m. and consisted of the crew mustering and describing where they would be and what their duties were in such a situation. Raines said they never discussed abandon ship procedures.

The board inspected the survival suits from the Alaska Ranger’s crew at the Dutch Harbor fire station today. Some minor damages were noted.

The board will reconvene Tuesday at 9 a.m. and will hear testimony from two of the Japanese crew with the assistance of an interpreter.

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