(Editor’s note: This story has been updated to add a witness account.)
A Coast Guard investigation is underway into the capsizing of a Kodiak fishing boat on Saturday morning. Lexie Preston, a U-S Coast Guard Petty Officer based in Juneau, said two boats collided near Whale Pass, about 22 nautical miles east of Kodiak.
Preston says the Denise Marie rolled after it collided with the Alaska Eagle. All four crew members of the Denise Marie, a 42-foot seiner, were in the water when they were rescued by the Alaska Eagle, a fishing tender, twice its length. Preston said no injuries were reported, and the cause of the collision won’t be made public until after the investigation is over.
The owner of the Denise Marie, Michael Patitucci said he and his three crew members were just wrapping up a pink salmon opener on the Denise Marie – but it wasn’t just any opener.
Patitucci, who is 65, said he felt a satisfaction he had never experienced before – as if he had finally perfected the art of seining – that the crew, the boat and the fish had all been in sync.
Then suddenly, they were all in the water, after the Alaska Eagle hit the stern of the Denise Marie, basically rear-ending it.
When his boat spun around, Patitucci said he didn’t see anyone at the helm of the Alaska Eagle — and like a ghost ship, it moved towards them at about eight knots.
Patitucci says when his seiner capsized, his three crew members were below deck — Gunnar Lassen, Mariel Ellingson and Daniel Carlson.
“My whole crew was trapped underneath the boat. I thought my whole crew just died,” Patitucci said. “I wanted to be dead, if that was the case.”
But to Patitucci’s relief, all three managed to swim out from underneath the boat to safety. By chance, Carlson had opened the galley door because he was hot – and that was how the three escaped.
Patitucci believes it took the crew on the Alaska Eagle awhile to realize what happened.
“They had no clue,” he said. “They just ran us over. There wasn’t anybody at the wheel.”
Patitucci says he and his crew were in the water for about 15 minutes when the Alaska Eagle sent an aluminum skiff to rescue them. He said the man who piloted the tender told him he was below deck when the boats collided, dealing with engine problems.
The Coast Guard says the collision was reported at about 10:00 a.m. on Saturday – and at that time, the temperature was 68 degrees, the wind at 13 knots and visibility at 10 nautical miles. The water temperature was 64 degrees.
The Alaska Eagle is registered under the name of John Hockema, who lists Soldotna as his address. Patitucci says Hockema wasn’t on the boat when the collision occurred.
The Denise Marie was moved out of the way of boat traffic to a cove near Whale Pass, where it’s anchored and sits upside down in the water.
Longtime mariners in Kodiak say they’ve never heard of a boat collision like this happening in these waters.