ANCHORAGE - The search for two men missing from a commercial fishing vessel that exploded and burned in the Bering Sea continued today as Coast Guard officials prepared to launch a formal investigation into the cause of the blast.
The Coast Guard today said another man is missing in the area, a commercial fisherman swept overboard this morning from a vessel aiding in search. The man was a crew member of the Clipper Express, a 138-foot Seattle-based vessel that on Sunday had rescued two people swimming in survival suits after they abandoned the burning ship.
One man was killed and two were lost after the explosion Sunday aboard the Galaxy, a 180-foot Seattle-based vessel used to catch and process Pacific cod.
The Galaxy was carrying a crew of 25 and an observer from the National Marine Fisheries Service. Eighteen of those on board were rescued by fishing boats in the area. Five injured crew members were taken to hospitals in Anchorage and Seattle.
Jose R. Rodas of Pasco, Wash., was lifted from the ship but died of injuries. Missing are Jerry L. Stephens of Edmonds, Wash., the first mate, and cook George F. Karn of Anchorage and Auburn, Wash.
"We're just holding out hope that they got into a life raft and they're out there floating," Coast Guard Petty Officer Roger Wetherell said.
The captain of the vessel, David Shoemaker of Carnation, Wash., was the worst injured of the survivors. He was flown to Seattle's Harborview Medical Center with burns and broken ribs.
"The guy's a hell of a hero," John Young, a lawyer for Galaxy Enterprises of Seattle, told the Anchorage Daily News. "He was the last guy off the boat. He experienced these burns by walking and crawling across a red-hot deck. He treated his crew like they're his family."
Wetherell said the crewman washed overboard today was not wearing a life jacket or a survival suit. His name was not released and Coast Guard officials were attempting to contact family members.
The Coast Guard immediately launched a rescue helicopter and a C-130 aircraft to search for the man. The Clipper Express was holding its position about 50 miles south of St. Paul Island, attempting to ride out 30-foot seas and winds exceeding 50 knots, when the crewman was lost, Wetherell said.
The Galaxy was about 30 miles southwest of St. Paul Island when the explosion occurred at about 4:40 p.m. Sunday. St. Paul is 750 miles southwest of Anchorage.
The cause of the explosion is not known. Young said the chief engineer discovered an engine room full of smoke and before he could activate a chemical fire suppression system, "it flashed."
Capt. Ron Morris, Coast Guard captain of the port for western Alaska, declared the Galaxy fire a "major marine casualty" that will set in motion a formal investigation. Lt. Cmdr. Chris Woodley of the Marine Safety Office in Anchorage will have subpoena authority and will interview crew.
The fire that charred much of the vessel burned itself out Monday. Galaxy Enterprises has contracted with a salvage company that was waiting for the weather to subside before towing the vessel to Dutch Harbor.