Partner describes drowning

Man's body still missing after boat accident near Wrangell

Posted: Friday, July 13, 2001

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - The things that could go wrong did, and that led to the death of a Rapid City, S.D., man in a boating accident Sunday in Wrangell, says the partner of the man who owned the chartered boat.

Doug Tribby's body was not found after the accident. Four other men from the Rapid City area survived.

Tribby was about 300 yards from shore when he succumbed to the cold water and lost contact with two other swimmers.

The survivors were Al Weidenbach, Gary Alexander and Mark Beshara of Rapid City, and Wayne Musilek, a former school principal and owner of the boat. The others were visiting Musilek.

"It was the longest day and night of my life," said Rich Deaver, Musilek's partner in the boating business and a high school principal. He was not on the boat that day, but he described the events leading to the accident and rescue.

The five men had gone out on a 21-foot boat. The water was 50 to 60 degrees, and the seas around Woronofski Island - about 4 1/2 miles from Wrangell - had 2- to 3-foot waves.

While the men were pulling crab pots, a line got caught in their propeller, and the boat began to take on water from the waves. They tried to get the backup motor started, but it became submerged and stalled.

Musilek and Weidenbach ran into the cabin to grab life preservers and call the Coast Guard for help. Meanwhile, a commercial crab boat passed nearby, and the wake capsized the smaller boat, Deaver said.

"At that point the three (Alexander, Beshara and Tribby) jumped into the ocean. They didn't have life preservers, but they did have floatation devices," Deaver said. "Doug got a hold of a bullet-shaped buoy made of Styrofoam. No one had life vests on at that point."

When the boat flipped, Weidenbach and Musilek were trapped in the cabin and had to swim 15 feet to the surface, Deaver said.

The five men clung to the bow until they heard air escaping from the boat and decided to swim for shore a half-mile away, Deaver said.

But Tribby showed signs of hypothermia. He had been taking a blood thinner because of a blood clot in his leg, Deaver said. That may have made him more susceptible to the cold.

"Wayne (Musilek) hung back with him and for some time held on to him to keep him from losing it," Deaver said.

Alexander and Beshara made it to shore, where youths with a radio contacted the Coast Guard and Wrangell Search and Rescue.

Within minutes, more than a dozen boats arrived to search for the three men still in the water.

"The water was quite cold and the three weren't getting any closer to shore. Their arms were numb and they couldn't move anything," Deaver said. "That's when Doug began to panic. He couldn't see or hear and kept calling the others in to him. Wayne had a hold of him, but Doug pushed away because he was disoriented. That's when he went under."

Less than five minutes later, Weidenbach and Musilek were rescued. The Coast Guard, helicopters and fishing boats searched for Tribby all night without success.

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