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Fishing crew honored for Kodiak rescue mission

  • Author: Alaska News
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published December 22, 2014

Four fishermen from Washington and Oregon who saved the lives of five men during a severe winter storm nearly two years ago off Kodiak Island received the Carnegie Medal for heroism Monday.

A 67-foot fishing boat, the Heritage, sank after its engine failed during a storm that brought 25-foot seas, subzero temperatures, sustained winds of 66 mph and blowing snow on Jan. 25, 2012, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission said in a press release.

Steven W. Stark, 40, captain of the Heritage, and four other men made it into a raft about four miles off the coast in Alitak Bay. Gregory D. Plancich, 58, captain of the 101-foot Trident Seafoods fish tender Tuxedni, learned of the sinking by radio and immediately left a safe mooring in Lazy Bay to search for the men. His crew included engineer Daniel C. Hardwick and deckhands Jim O. Fultz and Wayne Kitt.

"They took the Tuxedni about four miles over the course of an hour to the last known location of the Heritage. Waves broke over the boat en route, and freezing spray impeded visibility and caused the boat to accumulate ice," the Carnegie commission said.

Fultz spotted a light in the water and Plancich positioned the fishing boat upwind from the raft, relying on hand signals from Hardwick.

"Kitt then threw a line to the raft and with Fultz drew it next to the Tuxedni. One by one, the five men in the life raft jumped onto the side of the boat, with Stark last -- timing their jumps to the swells. (They) then were hauled aboard the Tuxedni by its crew," the commission said.

A Coast Guard helicopter had rescued the two other crewmen from the water. No one was injured.

Plancich and crew were among 19 people in the U.S. honored for heroism Monday by the commission for risking their lives "to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the lives of others."

The commission honored a total of 84 people in 2014, bringing the total number recognized since the first award in 1904 to 9,737. The medal comes with a financial grant.

Plancich and Hardwick are from Vashon, Washington, while Kitt is from Loon Lake, Washington. Fultz is from Siletz, Oregon. A year ago the crew received the Coast Guard Gold Lifesaving Medal.

During that ceremony, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported, Plancich said, "What we did was minor compared to what you guys (Coast Guard) do. My crew did all the work. I'm the bus driver. They're the real heroes."

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