Alaska Digest

Posted: Thursday, December 09, 2004

Helicopter crashes with 10 aboard

ANCHORAGE - A Coast Guard helicopter crashed into the Bering Sea with 10 people aboard while conducting a rescue after a powerless bulk freighter grounded on Unalaska Island in southwestern Alaska.

Four of the 10 - three Coast Guard personnel and one crew member - were picked up by another helicopter participating in the rescue, the Coast Guard said. They were taken to Dutch Harbor on the island for medical treatment, but there was no immediate word of their condition.

The search continued late Wednesday for the six freighter crew members still in the Bering Sea, where the water temperature was about 43 degrees and the waves were as high as 20 feet.

"The survival time is right around three hours in those conditions," said Rear Adm. James Olson, commander of the Coast Guard in Alaska, about four hours after the crash.

The Selendang Ayu, a 738-foot-long freighter loaded with grain and 440,000 gallons of its own fuel, broke in two an hour after the helicopter crash, about four-fifths of a mile off the island in the Aleutian chain, the Coast Guard said.

A Coast Guard rescue swimmer and the master of the vessel remained on board, the Coast Guard said. Both were later rescued by the second helicopter.

Unalaska Island, 800 air miles southwest of Anchorage, is home to sensitive wildlife habitat and fisheries.

The carrier's 440,000 gallons of heavy bunker oil had been transferred to inboard tanks and the fuel heaters were turned off to thicken the fuel, so in the event of a spill it would not disperse, Petty Officer Thomas McKenzie said.

The amount of spillage, if any, was not known Wednesday night, Olson said.

The Coast Guard was transporting oil containment boom to the island's Dutch Harbor.

The Coast Guard and tug boats had tried since Tuesday to halt the drifting freighter, but 25-foot swells and 30-knot winds broke tow lines on each attempt.

A tug boat attached a line to the freighter on Tuesday evening, securing it for 12 hours until the line broke and the vessel resumed its path to shore.

Sometime around 6 p.m. Wednesday, the captain of the freighter requested the remaining crew member be evacuated from the vessel, as the anchor had begun to give way and the freighter had started to flood.

Eight were on board, after 18 had been previously evacuated.

The helicopter crashed into the sea soon after picking up the crew members, leaving behind just the ship's captain and a Coast Guard rescue swimmer. The cause of the crash was not immediately known.

About an hour later, at 7:14 p.m., the freighter broke in half.

Three soldiers arrested in robbery

FAIRBANKS - Three Fort Wainwright soldiers have been charged with robbing a convenience store and gas station near the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Rodnell McGee, 19, Miguel A. Reyes, 20, and Reshay E. Scott, 23, were charged with first-degree robbery and third-degree theft. The men belong to the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Division, which is part of the Stryker Brigade, said base spokeswoman Linda Douglass.

Reyes allegedly acted as the gunman, McGee was the lookout and Scott acted as the getaway driver in the robbery of the Holiday convenience store early Tuesday. Reyes and McGee were in contact via two-way radio, according to court records.

JDHS to host concert Jan. 13 for military

JUNEAU -The Juneau-Douglas High School string orchestras and choirs will hold a concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13, at which they honor local residents who are serving with the military in the Mideast.

The music department is asking residents who know of such people to call Laurie Perkins, president of the choir boosters, at 364-3450 with the names and location of their service.

The theme of the concert is "I'll be Home for Christmas," and it is dedicated to the troops in the Mideast, said choir director Rod Pocock.

The song was popularized by Bing Crosby in October 1943, the depths of World War II.

The concert will conclude with the choirs jointly singing the song softly as the names of the military personnel are read, Pocock said. The audience will be asked to stand and sing one verse.

The local NBC television affiliate will tape the concert and send copies of the tapes to each person serving. Donations will be accepted at the door to defray the cost.

"No matter how you feel about the war (in Iraq), everyone wants these people to come home as quickly as possible," Pocock said.

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