As we celebrate the New Year, with all of its promise and potential, let us also take a moment to recognize the efforts of the US Coast Guard, who are “always ready,” as their mission states, “to protect the maritime economy and the environment, defend our maritime borders, and save those in peril.”
In mid-November, the 166-foot Alaska Mist, with 22 crewmen aboard, suffered a mechanical failure and became disabled and adrift 30 miles northwest of Amak Island.
According to a US Coast Guard press release, the fishing vessel’s master arranged for commercial assistance from the 207-foot anchor-handling supply tug Resolve Pioneer and contacted the Coast Guard to advise them of the situation. The 17th District command center then issued an urgent marine information broadcast, advising mariners in the area of the vessel’s circumstances, and identified the 418-foot Coast Guard Cutter Waesche as a secondary towing platform.
The Resolve Pioneer departed Dutch Harbor early the following day. Meanwhile the Alaska Mist crew deployed their sea drogue and the crew of their sister ship, the 162-foot Seattle-based Pavlof, arrived on scene, took the vessel in tow and slowed its drift until the Resolve Pioneer arrived. The tug crew made several attempts to establish a tow before suffering a towing equipment failure and moving off station to effect repairs. The crew of the Alaska Mist, having drifted to within just 10 miles of shore, was able to anchor successfully to await further assistance.
As the Waesche crew transited to the stricken vessel the Coast Guard moved a Kodiak-based MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Dutch Harbor to Cold Bay to assist the forward deployed Kodiak-based Jayhawk crew should a rescue effort have become necessary.
“The crew of the Alaska Mist acted in everyone’s best interest by taking immediate steps to advise us of their situation and arrange for assistance,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Amy Canny, with the 17th District command center. “Their actions allowed us to plan ahead and provide the additional towing asset that was needed. Through the use of the national security cutter, the professionalism of the crews and their coordination, we were able to ensure the safety of the crew and vessel.”
Once on scene, the Waesche crew arranged the transportation of non-essential crewmembers from the Alaska Mist. During the first transfer of passengers on Monday night, a Waesche crewmember, Petty Officer Third Class Travis Obendorf, was injured while recovering the small boat. A Coast Guard helicopter crew transported Obendorf to Cold Bay for a commercial medevac to Anchorage and then on to Seattle for further medical care.
Weather conditions at the time of the initial incident and the tug crew’s attempts to tow the vessel were 35 mph winds and seas of 5 to 10 feet with rain. During the Waesche’s transfer of personnel and tow set-up, weather was reportedly 40 to 46 mph winds with seas of 10 feet.
The Jayhawk crew safely transported all further non-essential personnel off the Alaska Mist, and the Waesche crew safely towed the Alaska Mist to Unalaska Island, where the Resolve Pioneer took the final leg of the tow into Dutch Harbor.
On December 18th, Petty Officer Third Class Travis Obendorf died in a Seattle hospital as a result of the injuries he sustained during the search and rescue operation. “Petty Officer Obendorf’s selfless actions directly contributed to rescuing five mariners in distress. His willingness to assist others, even amidst the dangerous environment of the Bering Sea, truly embodies the Coast Guard’s core values,” said Waesche’s commanding officer, Capt. John McKinley. “Travis will be sadly missed.”