Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 

This is Not a Drill


“Mayday, mayday, mayday…this is the KupreanofKupreanof. We are taking water over the stern…can’t shed it.”

When sector Juneau watchstanders received the mayday call from the captain of the 73-foot Kupreanof, watchstanders directed the launch of a rescue helicopter from Air Station Sitka.

According to a report from radio station KCAW in Sitka, the Kupreanof was en route on June 10th from Petersburg to Bristol Bay to tender salmon. The vessel ran into trouble at about 3:45 a.m. in an area known as the Fairweather grounds, about 150 miles northwest of Sitka.

When the MH-60 Jayhawk arrived, the four crew were still aboard the boat, whose stern rail was below the water. A video shot by the crew of the helicopter – – details the events that unfolded over the course of 28 minutes between arrival of the helicopter and the moment the bow of the vessel slipped beneath the waves.

In an interview with Joe Viechnicki of KFSK community radio, Kupreanof skipper Steve Berry talked about the events leading up to the rescue.

“It happened quick. I was up from 12:00 to 3:00 a.m. By 3:15 things weren’t looking right, and by 3:30 I was calling mayday – it was that quick. Something let go,” he said.

Berry said there was little warning to alert him of a problem, but all of a sudden water wasn’t clearing off the deck and the boat started listing hard to the port stern quarter. “No alarms, and I know the alarms were working when I took over the boat,” he said.

Berry said he was “feeling pretty helpless – there’s nothing you can do.”

The one thing he could do was prepare for the worst.

“I had my crew in survival suits,” he said. “It wasn’t 12 hours before, in Cross Sound I pulled in and we dropped the pick. We wanted to check the anchor gear once again and then make sure everything was secure and have a good dinner,” Berry said. Right after dinner, the captain told the crew they were all going to put on their survival suits.

“We went up and looked at how you deploy the life raft and I showed them where the EPIRB was and how we operate it just to remind everybody,” he said. “I even put on a survival suit. It’s about once every ten years I try one on – I tried one on last night.”

“Emergencies can occur at any time and having the right safety equipment is critical when operating in Alaska’s extreme environment,” said Lt. Ben Neal, a pilot at Air Station Sitka. “The crew of the Kupreanof did the right thing by calling for help, putting on their immersion suits and safely abandoning the ship.”

The aircrew arrived on scene and put a swimmer in the water as the crewmembers began entering their life raft. Once the crewmembers were in the life raft, the aircrew hoisted the four men and transported them safely to emergency medical services at Air Station Sitka, where they were reported in good condition.

“As of Oct. 15, 2015, commercial fishing vessel safety exams will be mandatory for vessels operating beyond three nautical miles offshore,” said Scott Giard, command duty officer, Sector Juneau. “This case is a perfect example of why exams are crucial for the safety of fishermen.”

The Coast Guard is there to help, but you can make their job a lot easier, as Captain Berry did. Watch the video with your own crew, and then go put your suits on.

Chris Philips can be reached at: 206-284-8285 or email:


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