Three commercial fishermen on an old wooden 42-foot crabbing boat were killed when they tried to cross the Yaquina Bay Bar near Newport, Oregon, at night in breaking seas even as a Coast Guard motor lifeboat tried to lead them to safety.
In a harrowing account, the Coast Guard said it tried to warn Stephen Biernacki, 50, the skipper of the Mary B II crabbing boat that he was drifting outside the channel, exposing it to 16-foot breakers. The Mary B II was among a group of crab boats that tried to cross the bar about 10 at night to escape a growing storm offshore. Two Coast Guard boats hovered off the bar, setting off flares so the crabbers could see their way in.
Chief Warrant Officer Tom Molloy was on the Coast Guard 52-foot motor lifeboat Victory about 100 yards behind the Mary B II as it approached the bar. He called Biernacki on the VHF to tell him he was too far north but he did not get a response. “I could see the jetty in his halogen lights heading toward the jetty and I told him you need to turn to starboard,” Malloy told the Newport News Times.
The Mary B II made a partial turn, but then “a wave broke across the pilothouse and pitch-poled him upside down,” Malloy said. “The boat wasn’t moving as fast as we would have hoped,” Molloy said later. “It was doing about two knots and we would have liked it to be about seven.”
The Coast Guard immediately sent a helicopter to the scene, and the Newport fire department sent first responders to the beach, where debris was washing ashore. The helicopter pulled James Lacey, 48, of South Toms River, New Jersey, out of the water and flew him to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. Responders found Joshua Porter, 50, of Toledo, Oregon, dead on the beach. And they later found Biernacki, of Barnegat Township, New Jersey, dead in the pilothouse after it washed ashore.
“We did everything we could,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Levi Read told KPIC-TV. “Unfortunately, it was a tragic outcome.”
“The sea state is just horrendous out there,” said Petty Officer First Class Rory Jenkins. “For an old wood boat like that, it’s really tough.” Read more: