Fish tender crew recognized for 2012 rescue

KODIAK — The U.S. Coast Guard presented the crew of the Trident Seafoods fish tender Tuxedni with the prestigious Gold Lifesaving Medal awards for their heroic actions that saved the lives of five people from the sinking fishing vessel Heritage in 2012.

Tuxedni Capt. Greg Plancich, engineer Dan Hardwick, deckhands Jim Fultz and Wayne Kit received the medals Wednesday during a special ceremony at Coast Guard Base Kodiak.

“Your actions on the 25th of January 2012, were nothing short of heroic,” said Capt. Melissa Rivera, commander of Air Station Kodiak. “You answered the distress call of a fellow mariner without hesitation. You got underway with full understanding of the nightmare conditions you were about to enter. You willingly risked your own lives to save the lives of others.”

On Jan. 25, 2012, the crew of the Tuxedni, which was moored in Lazy Bay, heard a mayday call over the VHF radio from the 68-foot fishing vessel Heritage. The Heritage was just four miles away in Alitak Bay but was sinking and taking on water. The Heritage then announced over the radio that the crew was abandoning ship.

Plancich ordered his crew to get underway to help. Others responded as well, but none as quickly as the Tuxedni. The crew of the Tuxedni battled high seas, 60 mph winds and freezing conditions to rescue the five people from a life raft.

The Coast Guard was already responding to another fishing vessel that ran aground and diverted a helicopter to rescue two other Heritage crewmen who did not make it into the raft. The Heritage sank around 7:30 a.m.

Capt. Gregory Sanial, District 17’s chief of response, traveled from Juneau to Kodiak to present the awards to the crew. Since the Gold Lifesaving Medal was created in 1874, only 600 have been awarded. It is typically reserved for civilians who risk their own lives to save the lives of others on the sea.

“It’s not every day the Coast Guard presents such a distinguished award,” Sanial said. “The courage exhibited by the crew of the Tuxedni on that day is nothing short of amazing.”

Sanial said there is significant scrutiny for the award to ensure it maintains its stature.

Reflecting on the bravery of his crew and the Coast Guard that night, Capt. Greg Plancich said, “What we did was minor compared to what you guys (Coast Guard) do. My crew did all the work. I’m the bus driver. They’re the real heroes.”

Trident Seafoods founder and chairman Chuck Bundrant and Trident Seafoods CEO Joe Bundrant were also in attendance at the event. Joe Bundrant thanked the crew.

“Safety first is a part of Trident culture,” he said. “To the crew of the Tuxedni, thank you. I’m proud to work with you.”

The Tuxedni crew also received a letter from Sen. Lisa Murkowski thanking them for actions, and were invited to look at the MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters used in the rescue.

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