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Documentary explores F/V Galaxy's crisis in remote Pribilof Islands (+Video)

Capt. Dave Shoemaker’s account of the crisis on the F/V Galaxy ranks as one of the great stories of sea survival. No one knew of the plight of his vessel, near the Pribilofs, the remote fur seal islands north of the Aleutian Chain. Even if they did know, rescue units were hours away. Their circumstance was hopeless.

The documentary airs Sunday at 7 p.m. on KTOO/360 Degrees North.

Within four minutes of the discovery of smoke on the afternoon of Oct. 20, 2002, the Galaxy was rocked by the first of many explosions, a huge blast that hurled three members of the starboard fire team through the gear-setting hatch at the stern and 30 feet through the air, into the frigid Bering Sea. His boat crippled in the 15-to 20-foot seas and 30-knot winds, forced out of the wheelhouse by the intense fire that roared out of control below decks, without radio communications, with men in the water, with the port life raft consumed in flames and survival suits melting on the blistering deck plates, Shoemaker struggled to save his crew. 

For his efforts in saving 23 of the 26 men and women aboard the Galaxy that day, Shoemaker was awarded the U.S. Coast Guard’s Gold Lifesaving Medal, the agency’s highest civilian commendation for heroism. Three crewmembers received similar recognition.

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“After the Galaxy” is the story of courage, extending from the captain throughout the ranks of his crew. It is the story of survival, including the astonishing ordeal of federal fisheries observer Ann Weckback who endured nearly two hours of immersion in the Bering Sea without a survival suit -- a medical miracle. It is the story of heroes like deck boss Ryan Newhall who could have swum to the life raft to save himself but chose to take his chances in the water with Weckback, or chief engineer Raul Vielma, who risked his own life repeatedly in his efforts to save the others.

It is the story of tragedy, like the death of Jerry Stephens, the second captain, who was hurled through the air by the backdraft explosion and died in the arms of rescue swimmer Calvin Paniptchuck. It is the story of one of the most difficult and dangerous search and rescue operations ever mounted by the U.S. Coast Guard; ultimately, one of the agency’s most successful.

The eBook is available for iPad, Kindle, Nook or other eReader. The 58-minute Home Viewing DVD features Captain Dave Shoemaker’s gripping account of the crisis aboard his vessel.