Alaska News

Coast Guard gets Hawaii help hearing distress call from sinking sailboat

Two men rescued from a sailboat in the Gulf of Alaska Wednesday may owe their lives to a mariner off Hawaii, who heard an initial distress call when Alaska-based U.S. Coast Guard members couldn't.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Meredith Manning said in a statement Wednesday that the 35-foot Rafiki was sinking Tuesday night in 6-foot seas about 230 miles south of Cold Bay.

Manning said the Rafiki had previously put into Dutch Harbor after reporting problems with its sails to the Coast Guard. The vessel was en route from Dutch Harbor to Victoria, British Columbia, when the men saw water pouring into the hull near the engine.

"They were trying to contact the Coast Guard in Alaska, but it was coming through staticky," Manning said. "They also didn't have any kind of survival suits — they had life jackets."

Petty Officer 3rd Class Amanda Levasseur, with the Coast Guard in Hawaii, said the first report of the Rafiki's distress call came in just after 7 p.m. Alaska time Tuesday.

"We had a local guy here who was underway in his vessel — he was using an HF frequency, (which) can travel farther than the VHF frequency," Levasseur said. "They charted it out and they realized it was closer to Alaska."

Levasseur said Hawaii watchstanders immediately notified their Alaska counterparts of the call, and direct contact was later made with the Rafiki. An HC-130 search plane and an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter were launched from Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak at about 8:30 p.m.

"Watchstanders also directed the men on the Rafiki to activate their emergency position indicating radio beacon and to keep it with them and remain with the vessel as long as possible," Manning wrote.

The faster HC-130 arrived at the scene at about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, dropping survival suits to the Rafiki. The men weren't hoisted off the vessel until the Jayhawk arrived at about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, flying them to Sand Point by 3:30 a.m. The HC-130 then flew the men from Sand Point to Kodiak.

"They were seen by (emergency medical services) and the owner-operator of the vessel had a possible head injury," Manning said.

Manning said the rescued men weren't carrying a satellite phone, an essential backup tool for contacting rescue officials.

"Sometimes in Alaska, it's so remote it's hard to get radio signals," Manning said.

Chris Klint

Chris Klint is a former ADN reporter who covered breaking news.