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Calls to loved ones reveal rough conditions before sinking

JUNEAU, Alaska — A survivor of fatal Alaska crab boat tragedy said the crew went from “sleeping to swimming in about 10 minutes” as rough seas and icing threatened to sink their boat.

“On the 31st we just started listing really hard on the starboard side,” Dean Gribble Jr. said in a YouTube video he said he posted to answer some questions about what happened. “From sleeping to swimming was about 10 minutes. It happened really fast. Everybody was trying to get out. Everybody was doing everything they could and it was just really a (expletive) situation.”

Gribble said they faced 20 foot (6.10 meters) seas, 40-mph (64-kph) winds and icy conditions.

"I've fished for 20 years, I know that you do not make it," he said. "Everybody can die in those situations and I knew that's what we were going into. We were in the raft for about five hours."

Gribble and John Lawler were the only survivors, according to the Coast Guard.

Gribble, who’s appeared on the Discovery Channel documentary series “Deadliest Catch,” and Lawler suffered hypothermia but were released from a hospital.

"I just wish the other guys would have made it," Gribble said in the video, shaking his head and looking down. "I kind of feel bad now that I'm here and they're not. Send some love to their families."

Calls to loved ones in the lead-up to the sinking also revealed the rough conditions the seven-man crew faced, including icing that did not seem to rattle the boat’s captain.

Gary Cobban Jr., the captain, was among five fishermen missing and feared dead after the Scandies Rose sank late Tuesday. The Coast Guard did not release details Thursday on a possible cause.

Cobban's ex-girlfriend, Jeri Lynn Smith, told the Anchorage Daily News he called her in North Carolina about two hours before the boat sank to wish her a happy new year. She said the conditions hadn't seemed to worry him.

"When I talked to him, he told me the boat was icing and it had a list to it, but he didn't sound alarmed. He didn't sound scared," Smith said. "The boat ices. The boat ices every winter. It's just something they deal with. I didn't worry about it."

Smith said she wouldn't have hung up if she thought he was in a crisis.

Others listed as missing were David Lee Cobban, Arthur Ganacias, Brock Rainey and Seth Rousseau-Gano, according to the Coast Guard. It said it used helicopters, planes and a boat as part of a search effort that covered 1,400 square miles (3,625 square kilometers) and ended Wednesday evening.

This undated photo shows the Scandies Rose vessel in Seattle. The search for five crew members of the Scandies Rose in Alaska has been suspended, the U.S. Coast Guard said after two other crew members of the vessel were rescued after the 130-foot crab fishing boat from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, sank on New Year's Eve. (Mike Fancher/The Seattle Times via AP)
This undated photo shows the Scandies Rose vessel in Seattle. The search for five crew members of the Scandies Rose in Alaska has been suspended, the U.S. Coast Guard said after two other crew members of the vessel were rescued after the 130-foot crab fishing boat from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, sank on New Year's Eve. (Mike Fancher/The Seattle Times via AP)

Ashley Boggs of Peru, Indiana, said Rainey, of Kellogg, Idaho, called her shortly before the ship sank and said conditions were bad. The two had planned to marry after Rainey returned.

"I'm just praying and hoping they find him on land or something," Boggs told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The boat was carrying a load of crabbing pots for the start of the winter season, Dan Mattsen, a partner in the vessel managed by Seattle-Based Mattsen Management, told the Seattle Times.

Crabbing boats endure perilous conditions in Alaska waters that have been immortalized in "Deadliest Catch." Workers face dangers like huge waves, harsh weather and massive crab pots that could crush them.

Commercial fishing is one of the country's most dangerous occupations, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. It said there were 179 deaths in Alaska fisheries between 2000 and 2014, the most recent numbers available.

From 2010 to 2014, there were 66 vessel disasters in Alaska waters, including sinkings and fires, that killed 15 people, the agency said. The leading causes of fatal disasters were instability and being hit by large waves.

Many of the fatal incidents involved small boats known as skiffs.

Jeff Folk, from Anchorage, prepares to unload a crab pot on board the fishing vessel Gulf Winds on Nov. 18, 2008, during a law enforcement boarding conducted by a the cutter Sherman's boarding team. The Gulf Winds, a 110-foot crab vessel from Seattle, fished for red king crab, the most valuable Alaskan crab species. The crab is fished between the months of October and January, and most vessels offload their catch in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, the largest commercial fishing port in the U.S. Coast Guard boarding teams operate in extreme weather and sea conditions to prevent violations of U.S. fishery laws, inspecting fishing licenses and permits, emergency alarms and drills, logbooks and safety and firefighting equipment. (Coast Guard)
Jeff Folk, from Anchorage, prepares to unload a crab pot on board the fishing vessel Gulf Winds on Nov. 18, 2008, during a law enforcement boarding conducted by a the cutter Sherman's boarding team. The Gulf Winds, a 110-foot crab vessel from Seattle, fished for red king crab, the most valuable Alaskan crab species. The crab is fished between the months of October and January, and most vessels offload their catch in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, the largest commercial fishing port in the U.S. Coast Guard boarding teams operate in extreme weather and sea conditions to prevent violations of U.S. fishery laws, inspecting fishing licenses and permits, emergency alarms and drills, logbooks and safety and firefighting equipment. (Coast Guard)

Different fisheries have different risks, said Samantha Case, an epidemiologist in the agency’s Commercial Fishing Research Program.

Case said steps have been taken aimed at making the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab fishery safer, including Coast Guard stability checks for vessels; changes in fisheries management that reduced some operational risk, such as a "race to fish" competitiveness; and increased marine safety training.

In a high-profile incident in 2017, six people died in the capsizing and sinking of the vessel Destination in the Bering Sea, which Coast Guard Rear Admiral J.P. Nadeau called a "tragic and preventable accident."

An investigative report found stability, weight issues and excess ice accumulation from freezing spray as contributing factors.

A study Case was a part of looked at survival factors for crew on vessels in Alaska that sank and found use of life rafts and immersion suits increased chances for survival when a boat had to be abandoned. Immersion suits, which provide a bit of flotation and can help keep someone awaiting rescue warm, are critical for people who will be in water for longer periods, Case said.

The 130-foot (40-meter) Scandies Rose was traveling in an area with warnings about strong winds and heavy freezing spray, said Louise Fode, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Its last known position was 170 miles (270 kilometers) southwest of Kodiak Island, and it sank about 10 p.m. Tuesday, the Coast Guard said.

The vessel had sent out a mayday call.

Rescue crews battled winds of more than 40 mph (64 kph), 15- to 20-foot (4.5- to 6-meter) seas and visibility that was limited to a mile (1.5 kilometers), Public Affairs Specialist 2nd Class Melissa McKenzie said.

She said the air temperature was about 10 degrees (12 below zero Celsius). The estimated water temperature was 43 degrees (6 degrees Celsius), the weather service said.

Bill Rose of Seattle, who used to work on fishing boats in Alaska, said the conditions can be brutal — even "terrifying for someone who had never done it. But if it's all you can do to make a living and you're out there and you're used to it, you really don't think much of it."

He said on the right boat, a fisherman could make $150,000 a year. “I mean, why wouldn’t you do it?” he said.

Bellisle reported from Seattle. Associated Press writer Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, photographer Ted Warren in Seattle and researcher Randy Herschaft in New York contributed to this report.

Navy Times editor’s note: A Thursday email from the Coast Guard described more the efforts 17th District Command Center watchstanders in Juneau directed to find survivors before they decided to halt the 20-hour search.

The response began with a mayday call over High Frequency radio on Tuesday evening from the Scandies Rose, which capsized and sank approximately five miles southeast of Sutwik Island.

By the time the hunt ended, Coast Guard had sent four MH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopters and two HC-130J Super Hercules long range surveillance aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, plus the cutter Mellon, to canvass the area.

"The decision to suspend an active search and rescue case is never easy, and it’s only made after careful consideration of a myriad of factors,” said Rear Adm. Matthew Bell, 17th District Commander, in his prepared statement. “Our deepest condolences to the friends and families impacted by this tragedy.”

The two survivors were rescued from their life raft by the first Jayhawk crew that arrived and were transported to the hospital in Kodiak, where they were reported to be in stable condition.

Coast Guard uses scientific modeling that takes into account numerous factors such as water temperature, wind conditions and time in the sea to figure out the survival probability of missing mariners before suspending a search.

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