ANCHORAGE - As the fishing vessel Alaska Ranger sank to the bottom of the Bering Sea, crewman Byron Carrillo and 1st Engineer James Madruga struggled to stay afloat in the rough and frigid waves.
With Carrillo drifting into hypothermic shock after nearly five hours, the arrival of a Coast Guard rescue helicopter was a blessing, Madruga said Friday. He told the rescue swimmer to "take Byron first" and watched the panicked young crewman being loaded into a dangling basket.
But when he reached the helicopter himself, Carrillo was nowhere to be seen, Madruga said during the first day of public testimony on the incident before a board of Coast Guard investigators.
Carrillo's disappearance is one of the many unknowns the Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board are grappling with in the sinking on Easter Sunday, which left five men dead.
"When I got up to the chopper I asked them, 'Where was the guy they brought up before me?"' Madruga said at the hearing in Dutch Harbor.
According to the Coast Guard, the crew and the survivors told Madruga he was the only one - that no other man had been brought up.
"This is the part now where I don't understand," Madruga said. "He took Byron. I saw Byron get into the basket and go up. It was pretty hard to look up because of the wind on your face. And the swimmer came for me, and I went up."