Crew members of the Alaska Warrior struggled to find and rescue the survivors of their sunken sister ship in the Bering Sea, none had a greater personal stake than engineer Edward Cook.
Cook’s brother, Daniel, was chief engineer aboard the Seattle-based Alaska Ranger, which sank in 36-degree waters several hours after it issued a “mayday” call early Sunday 120 miles west of Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
Edward and Daniel Cook both began fishing as youngsters. Both served in Vietnam as Marines, and both had long accepted the risks that come with their profession, said a niece, Amy Roman, of Seattle.
By the time the Warrior pulled close to its sister ship’s position, the Ranger’s crew had abandoned ship. While some made it into life rafts, others floated haplessly in frigid waters, their beacons flashing in the blackness.
Roman said she’s been told that it was Edward Cook who eventually found his brother’s body. “My Uncle Eddie was pulling people out of the water — he was looking for Danny, and when he did pull Danny out, he just broke down,” she said.
Daniel Cook was among five fishermen who perished, despite the heroic rescue efforts by the Alaska Warrior and the Coast Guard, which together managed to save 42 of the Alaska Ranger’s crew.
Monday night, the Coast Guard called off the search for the last missing crewman, Satashi Konno of Japan. The decision came after a Coast Guard cutter and helicopter searched more than 875 square miles, battling sub-freezing temperatures, winds up to 40 mph and periodic snow squalls.
Both fishing vessels are owned by the Fishing Company of Alaska, headquartered in Seattle.
Besides Cook, 58, of San Diego, the victims were skipper Eric Peter Jacobsen, 66, of Lynnwood; first mate David Silveira, of San Diego; and crew member Byron Carillo.
The four helped others off the boat before finally heading overboard, perhaps preventing further loss of life. All four men were in the water for at least six hours and died of hypothermia, officials said.
The captain of the Coast Guard cutter that rescued 20 survivors described a harrowing several hours in which helicopters hovered precariously to pluck survivors from the sea.
“The big issue was just locating them in the water, in the darkness,” said Capt. Craig Lloyd of the 378-foot cutter Munro. “It was an amazing scene.”
Lloyd credited the Alaska Ranger’s crew members with aiding in their own survival by getting in survival suits and staying together as much as the rough seas would allow.
“They did all the right things. They deserve credit for following the training they had,” Lloyd said.
Not everything went well. One man slipped out of the rescue basket just before it could be lifted into the helicopter, falling back into the sea. Lloyd said he did not know whether that man was subsequently rescued or was among the victims.
One man was unresponsive when brought aboard the Munro, and though medical officers performed CPR for about 45 minutes, attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.
The Munro was 97 miles from the Ranger when the “mayday” was sounded. When it was within 80 miles of the stricken vessel, it dispatched its Dolphin helicopter, and a larger Jayhawk helicopter was sent from St. Paul Island.
The Jayhawk, too large to land on the cutter, delivered 16 Ranger crew members in two loads, lowering them to the ship using a basket and cable.
Monday afternoon, the cutter remained on the scene as the search continued for the final missing crewman.
The cause of the sinking is under investigation.
Lloyd said his entire crew of 160 aided in the rescue, tending to the victims.
“Some of them, when they were brought on board, were severely hypothermic,” he said, adding that some had been in the water about two hours. “We got them out of their survival suits and their wet clothing, set up blankets and heaters and gave first aid. We gave them shirts and shorts and jackets, books and Bibles and playing cards. We’ve been able to put many of them in touch with family members.”
By late Monday afternoon, most were markedly improved but still showing “signs of post-hypothermia — muscle cramps and pain from shivering that long,” Lloyd said.
The tragedy stunned a former crewman of the Ranger, Claude Sterner of Pueblo, Colo.
“When I heard it sank, I was in shock,” said Sterner, who had crewed aboard the vessel in 2005 and 2007. He would have been back on board Sunday except that bad weather grounded his flight and he missed the ship’s departure.
Sterner talked to a friend who had been aboard the Ranger and described a chaotic scene as the crew prepared to abandon the listing ship. Crew members were holding onto railings to keep from falling overboard, then they were forced to make the tough decision to jump to try to land in a raft, he said.
“Even when they were in the life rafts, people got scared. They were lifting so many people into the rafts and there was so much water in them. That’s when they all joined hands and prayed.”
Roman said her uncle Daniel Cook, as chief engineer, shared the skipper’s responsibility to get the entire crew off the vessel safely before considering his own fate.
Cook was a fisherman from the age of 14. “It’s a hard job. It’s very difficult and can be dangerous,” she said.
Eric Jacobsen’s daughter, Erica Tellez, also of Lynnwood, said that for years she had heard stories of fishing-boat accidents, but she was always confident her dad wasn’t involved in them.
“I never worried because he knew his job so well, and he always came home,” she said, recalling how her dad used to talk often about the safety precautions he took on his boat.
Jacobsen is survived locally by his wife, Patricia; son Scott Jacobsen; daughter Erica; and grandchildren Maya, 2, Margarito, 5, and Cody, 8.