Search for missing crewmen called off

KATMAI SINKING: Hearings on what happened start today.

October 26, 2008 

The U.S. Coast Guard on Sunday suspended the search for two missing crewmen from the commercial fishing vessel Katmai, which sank last week in distant Aleutian waters west of Adak Island.

The decision came a day before investigators are to begin public hearings this morning in Anchorage on what went wrong aboard the 93-foot boat.

The missing men -- Carlos Martin Zabala of Helena, Mont., and Robert Davis of Deming, Wash. -- were among 11 crewmen aboard the Katmai, which had been fishing for cod and was heading to Dutch Harbor with its catch.

Rescuers saved four crewmen from a life raft and retrieved five bodies from the frigid waters.

The Coast Guard continued searching into the weekend for the two missing men but called off the search at 9:36 a.m. Sunday.

The cutter Acushnet and several Coast Guard and Alaska Air National Guard aircraft searched 4,871 square miles of ocean after the Katmai's disappearance early Wednesday, the Coast Guard said.

"While our minds remain on Coast Guard missions, our hearts are with the families during this difficult time," said Capt. Mike Inman, chief of response for the Coast Guard in Alaska.

A three-member panel of Coast Guard officers is scheduled to begin hearings at 9:30 a.m. today at the downtown Hilton Anchorage. Survivors, rescuers and others are likely to testify. The hearings, open to the public, could last several days.

The investigating officers have experience and training in vessel safety and engineering. One member is from Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C., another is from Boston and the third is based in Anchorage.

The Katmai's crew was known to have been battling some flooding at the stern of the vessel, and the weather was rough at the time. But the cause of the sinking remains unclear, Coast Guard officers have said.

The boat was part of what's known as the head-and-gut fleet -- fishing vessels whose crews catch fish such as cod and sole off Alaska and clean them by removing their heads and innards.

Tragedy has struck this fleet several times in recent years, the worst example being the loss of the Arctic Rose in the Bering Sea in 2001, killing all 15 aboard.

The steel-hulled Katmai belonged to a Seattle-based company called Katmai Fisheries Inc. The boat was built in 1987 in a Florida shipyard.


Find Wesley Loy's commercial fishing blog online at adn.com/highliner or call 257-4590.

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