ANCHORAGE, Alaska — An explosion at a dock in Alaska spread fire to a nearby fishing boat that then sank, leaving one person aboard missing, the U.S. Coast Guard said Monday.
Crews were using a boat and helicopter to scour the ocean around the dock for the missing person, the Coast Guard said in a statement.
According to officials, the explosion happened on a fixed barge and fire then spread to the pier and the 99-foot commercial fishing vessel.
Initial reports were that two people were aboard the fishing vessel at the time. But Whittier, Alaska, police told the Coast Guard that one of the two was on a different boat and is safe.
The Coast Guard established a 100-yard (91-meter) safety zone to keep other boats away from the fire and search area.
The fishing boat, which had the capacity to carry about 5,500 gallons (20,820 liters) of fuel, sank in 85 feet (25 meters) of water, the Coast Guard said.
A salvage crew has been hired by the vessel’s owner.
Brian Hicks, the Whittier Fire Department’s chief, told the Coast Guard that personnel from Whittier Fire Department, Whittier Police Department, Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel Fire Department and Girdwood Fire Department all responded to the scene.
The dock is operated by the city of Whittier.
The cause of the explosion is under investigation.
Kelly Bender and her family own a Whittier-based charter. Bender told the Anchorage Daily News that she heard the explosion.
Bender said her husband and son, who is an Anchorage firefighter, jumped into their boat to help.
"They were able to get close enough and throw a grappling hook, about 40 feet," Bender said. "They were able to just pull it off the dock to prevent more damage. I guess the boat sunk pretty quickly."
They joined other vessels in a search for missing people, she said. No one was seen.
Five people were wearing life jackets while another held onto a floatation device in the 60-degree water.
Navy Times editor’s note: A Coast Guard statement emailed to Navy Times early Tuesday announced that rescuers have suspended the search for the 49-year-old Cordova man who went missing after the Delong Dock explosion.
“The Coast Guard committed all available resources in conducting this search effort," said Cmdr. Mark Kuperman, Coast Guard Sector Anchorage’s deputy commander and the coordinator of the search efforts. "Our thoughts are with the family and friends who were impacted by this tragedy.”
Officials in Alaska said that an MH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter and the cutter Chandeleur joined Coast Guard Auxiliary Boat 336 in a search that lasted 17 hours and spanned 12 square miles.
The Coast Guard has taken the lead in the National Safety Transportation Board probe into the cause of the tragedy.