Boat skipper dies at helm

Vessel goes aground, starts to capsize as crew works to save captain

Posted: Monday, August 27, 2001

A commercial fishing boat captain became unconscious and died and his crew had to abandon ship late Saturday night in Hawk Inlet 20 miles southwest of Juneau.

Crewmen of the Heritage knew that boat captain John P. Ancich Jr., 34, of Gig Harbor, Wash., had a history of diabetes, said Petty Officer Christopher S. Grisafe of the U.S. Coast Guard. When Ancich collapsed in the wheelhouse, they believed he was incapacitated by diabetic coma, also called insulin shock, which can be fatal.

"Ancich, the owner-operator of the vessel, became unconscious about 11 p.m. and stopped breathing," said Greg Wilkinson, spokesman for the Alaska State Troopers. "Members of the crew started cardio-pulmonary resuscitation."

While the crew members were distracted by their efforts, the tide pushed the vessel onto shore and it began to capsize, Grisafe said.

The 58-foot fishing vessel went aground on the west side of Admiralty Island. When crew members could not resuscitate Ancich, they called the Coast Guard and said they were about to abandon ship, Grisafe said.

The Coast Guard launched a helicopter from Sitka and a boat from Juneau at 11:10 p.m. Saturday. The helicopter arrived at about 12:45 a.m. Sunday and lowered a rescue swimmer. The swimmer found that the captain did not respond to life-monitor machines. The rescue boat arrived about 1:12 a.m., Grisafe said.

Meanwhile, the Heritage's crew of four used the vessel's skiff to leave the ship. The cruise ship Spirit of Endeavor responded to the May Day call. The 207-foot vessel is owned by Alaska Sightseeing-Cruise West.

"Our crew also performed CPR, but the captain did not respond. Then the crew came on board just to get warm and get something to eat before being picked up by the Coast Guard," said Maureen Camanerdona, director of communications for Cruise West's Seattle office.

The crew members and their dog were returned to Hoonah. The crew members were identified as Chris Irish, 23; Ken Nelson, 50; Michelle Parker, 39; and Jason Sisson, 23, all of Gig Harbor.

The Heritage did not suffer structural damage and did not cause any pollution, Grisafe said. A Good Samaritan piloted it to Hoonah.

The Heritage was a seining vessel that fished every season out of Excursion Inlet for Excursion Inlet Packing, said Buddy Howard, assistant harbormaster for Hoonah.

Ancich had been a commercial fisherman in Alaska waters most of his life, said Gary Moore, superintendent of Excursion Inlet Packing.

"He fished for us since he was a kid, first for Adam Ross on the Dana R and then he got his own boat a few years ago. Fishing was his life. He worked real hard, and he was very concerned about the industry, and did a lot of educational work to help others through his fisherman's association back home."

State troopers recovered the body of Ancich on Sunday and turned it over to the Alaskan Memorial Park Mortuary in Juneau. The body will be flown to the state medical examiner's office in Anchorage for an autopsy, Wilkinson said.

The Coast Guard is investigating the incident.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

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