Monday, January 15, 2007

F/V Ocean Challenger (Part 1)

“Does anyone know where the love of God goes, when the waves turn the minutes to hours?” *

It was about 10 o’clock in the morning of October 18, when the 600 foot car-carrier, M/V Overseas Joyce, heard the mayday call from the 58 foot F/V Ocean Challenger. The freighter was close enough for her crew to watch with shock as the fishing boat deployed her life raft in seas nearly 3 stories high. Shock gave way to horror as the smaller craft capsized, sending all of her crew into the frigid waters of the Bering Sea.

The master of the Overseas Joyce immediately relayed the distress call and location - approximately 60 miles south of Sand Point - to the US Coast Guard. Air Station Kodiak launched a C-130 air plane, an HH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter, and the USCG cutter Munro. The car carrier and a second freighter, the R.J. Phifer, a 500-foot container ship, remained to help in the search.

The Jayhawk arrived on scene approximately an hour after the call. The conditions were reported as 50-knot winds, 30-foot seas and a temperature of about 45 degrees. Brutal on land, deadly at sea.

The crew of the Jayhawk, locating the only man wearing a survival suit, lowered a rescue basket into the frenzied waters and hoisted , Kevin Ferrell, 28, originally of Lynchburg, Va. to safety.

The Coast Guard rescue swimmer reached the skipper, 51 year old David “Cowboy” Hasselquist of Hoonah, and 26 year old Walter Foster, of Westport, Washington only to have them pronounced dead by the flight surgeon.

Still missing is Steve Esparza, 26, of Kodiak, Alaska.

Coast Guard C-130 pilot Lt. Jerred Williams said he arrived on scene in the afternoon with a second crew to look for the missing man. “The waves were so high you actually got white caps at the top of the wave,” he said. “And, then, with the wind streaking across the blue water, and the white turbulence everywhere, it made it very challenging to find a person in the water.”

The high waves and wind eventually made the search almost impossible by air so only the Munro continued the search for Esparza into the evening. The Coast Guard called off the search just before 8 p.m. that Thursday night. The search covered approximately 1,730 square miles, and lasted 46 hours and 20 minutes.

Kevin Ferrell was flown to the Cold Bay Clinic, about 50 miles away, then to an Anchorage hospital.

Stay tuned.


* from "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"

1 comment:

write2me said...

I knew Steve Esparza and his family personally. We grew up in the same community and had mutual friends. I had a chance to see him before he returned to Alaska never to be found again. I will never forget his bright smile and great sense of humor.