HARD AGROUND - Wreck of the Exxon Valdez - March 24, 1989


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Daily News reporter

Anchorage Daily News
Date: 05/18/89
Day: Thursday
Edition: Final
Section: Nation
Page: A1

ANCHORAGE- Five hours before their tanker ran aground on a well charted reef in Prince William Sound, Capt. Joseph Hazelwood and two of his officers were sitting in a grungy Valdez bar, having a drink and waiting for two pizzas to take back to the Exxon Valdez. That wasn't the first bar they'd been in that day or the first drinks they'd had, according to documents released by federal investigators this week.

The round of drinks at the Club Valdez, a roughedged fisherman's hangout on the town's waterfront, capped a day ashore that included more than three hours there and in another bar, the Pipeline Club, according to reports and interviews with crewmen by the National Transportation Board.

Questions about Hazelwood's sobriety have been raised repeatedly since the ship ran aground just after midnight on March 24, spilling 11 million gallons of North Slope crude oil into the Sound.

Crewmen and others who were around Hazelwood that night have said he did not appear drunk. But the harbor pilot who guided the ship out of port reported smelling alcohol on Hazelwood's breath, as did a Coast Guard investigator who boarded the crippled tanker several hours later. The next morning, Hazelwood's blood alcohol level was measured at .61 percent well over the Coast Guard limit of .40 for operating a commercial vessel.

Hazelwood has been charged with operating a vessel while intoxicated and two other misdemeanors, and a state grand jury is considering additional charges.

Interviews and investigative documents made public this week by the safety board provide the first detailed account of Hazelwood's drinking and other activities in Valdez in the hours before the grounding. They show Hazelwood and the other two officers ignored Coast Guard rules prohibiting drinking within four hours of going on duty on a commercial ship.

Some of the NTSB documents show discrepancies some minor, some major between what Hazelwood told a Coast Guard investigator after the grounding and what his officers told the NTSB. Hazelwood has since refused to talk with any authorities about the grounding.

Hazelwood, 42, has a history of drunken driving convictions in his home state of New York, and according to Exxon officials, once enrolled in an alcohol rehabilitation program. His driver's license was taken away last fall following an arrest for drunken driving, and remains revoked.

While their tanker was being loaded with 53 million gallons of oil on March 23, Hazelwood and two of his officers chief engineer Jerzy Glowacki and radio officer Joel Roberson rode into Valdez with Ed Murphy, the state harbor pilot who'd steered the ship into port the night before, according to an NTSB report. Glowacki and Roberson said the captain invited them to go to town.

The four men had lunch early that afternoon at the Pizza Palace, a cafe across the street from Valdez's smallboat harbor, the report said. Glowacki and Roberson told investigators they each had one or two beers, while Hazelwood and Murphy drank ice tea. Hazelwood told the Coast Guard he had a beer.

Afterward, according to the two officers, Murphy drove the three Exxon officers to a cluster of businesses in the middle of town. They separated to run errands, and the three officers agreed to meet later in the afternoon at the Pipeline Club, according to the interviews. Hazelwood went to a gift shop, where he placed an order for Easter flowers to be sent to his family, while the radio officer shopped at the grocery store and the engineer walked around town looking for a newspaper, according to the interviews.

Around 4:30 p.m., Hazelwood met Glowacki at the dimly lit Pipeline Club, a bar connected to a restaurant and motel in the middle of town. They were joined by Roberson, who told the NTSB they "played darts with local residents and otherwise enjoyed themselves while each purchased one or more rounds of drinks." He said Hazelwood was drinking a "clear" beverage, possibly vodka.

Glowacki couldn't remember what they were drinking or how much, according to the safety board. He said they left the Pipeline Club around 7 p.m., 21|2 hours after they got there.

Hazelwood, meanwhile, gave the Coast Guard a different chain of events. He said the men stopped by the Pipeline Club around 3:30 "to see who was there. He said they only stayed for a few minutes and had one beer." Then they left to get pizza, he said.

According to Glowacki and Roberson, though, the three men walked back to the Pizza Palace around 7 p.m., where they ordered two pizzas to go. Then they went next door to the Club Valdez, a sparse, oneroom tavern favored by fishermen and featuring a bar, a few tables and pool tables.

Hazelwood, Glowacki and Roberson all agreed they had one drink each at the bar while waiting for their pizzas. The radio officer said the captain possibly drank vodka; Hazelwood said he had a beer.

About 7:30 p.m., the three men, their pizzas and a crewman from another tanker, the Arco Independence, were picked up by taxi driver Ron French and delivered at the Alyeska terminal across the bay, according to the NTSB.

The cab driver told the NTSB he remembered little about the ride, but said none of the men appeared to be under the influence of alcohol. That conflicts sharply with what he told Daily News reporters several times in late March and early April that he remembered little about the Exxon crewmen, but that the Arco seaman was extremely drunk when he was picked up at the Pipeline Club. When shown a picture of Hazelwood, French said he was not among the men in his cab that night. But the log kept at the Alyeska gate showed Hazelwood rode back to the terminal in French's cab.

A security guard at the Alyeska gate also reported that the Exxon officers did not appear drunk, the NTSB said. The men passed through a metal detector and were dropped off at the berth 5, where preparations were being made for the ship to leave.

That surprised Hazelwood and the other two officers. They had expected the ship to leave around 10 p.m., Glowacki told the NTSB. But when they got back to the ship, they discovered that the time had been moved up to 9 about an hour away. The harbor pilot, Murphy, was already on board, as was Pat Caples, a representative of Exxon's local shipping agent. Hazelwood rushed to the bridge without taking off his overcoat, and the other two officers went to work in the radio and engine rooms.

Caples told investigators that Hazelwood seemed less formal than usual when he arrived on the bridge, that his eyes were watery and that he may have been drinking. But he didn't show overt signs of being drunk, she said.

Fifteen minutes after the ship left port at 9:12 p.m., Hazelwood disappeared from the bridge and remained away for some 90 minutes, until the pilot, Murphy, was dropped off outside the Valdez Narrows, the NTSB said. Murphy said he had someone call Hazelwood back up to the bridge from his cabin before he got off.

At 3:30 a.m., with the Exxon Valdez grounded on Bligh Reef, a pair of Coast Guard investigators boarded the tanker and both reported Hazelwood's breath smelled "strongly of alcohol," the NTSB said.

"He smelled like someone who had been sitting in a bar, drinking for quite some time," Chief Warrant Officer Mark Delozier told the NTSB Wednesday.

Asked if Hazelwood was in possession of his faculties, Delozier said he saw no problem with his activities, but felt he was trying to cover up his breath putting his hand over his mouth, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes.

"I did inform the master that it (smoking) would not be a very prudent thing for him to continue to do in light of the fact that there were fumes in the area," Delozier said. He said Hazelwood agreed and snuffed his cigarette.

Hazelwood told the Coast Guard he consumed two bottles of lowalcohol beer after he got on the ship. Delozier did a cursory search of Hazelwood's cabin, looking in the refrigerator and a cabinet, but said he found only six bottles of lowalcohol beer and no other alcoholic beverages. He didn't search the rest of the cabin because there are no federal laws prohibiting alcohol on ships.

In testimony before the NTSB board of inquiry Wednesday, Chief Mate James Kunkel said he didn't smell alcohol on Hazelwood's breath after the grounding, but said it was difficult to smell anything on the bridge besides fumes from the spilled oil below.

Blood and urine samples weren't taken from Hazelwood and three other crew members on watch until after 10 a.m. the next morning. Coast Guard officers said they were not aware that the ship had its own test kits, and once they discovered them, had to wait for a Coast Guard medic to come aboard and draw the blood.

According to the NTSB, Hazelwood claimed he was unable to give a urine sample when asked by the Coast Guard officers. He later provided one, and was the only one of the four to test positive for alcohol. The two officers who went with him to town were not tested.

Daily News reporter Stan Jones contributed to this story.

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