Friday, June 10, 2005
It was a "terrible accident that happened to one of the best boats in the fleet," says Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Chris Woodley.
That's the bottom line of the Coast Guard's final report of what happened aboard the Seattle-based fishing boat, Galaxy. In October of 2002, the Galaxy caught fire and exploded. Wednesday's Coast Guard report is the final chapter of a tragedy that killed three Washington fishermen. LCDR Woodley made it clear, "there was no evidence of negligence, there was no evidence of wrong-doing." The Coast Guard ruled that what happened aboard the Galaxy was no one's fault, just a terrible accident that took three lives. "The explosion was not predictable, and it largely changed the overall outcome." A fire had started in the ship's engine room. The Coast Guard determined that the fire sparked a massive backdraft explosion. It blew three crewmembers overboard and sent the fire raging throughout the ship's midsection. The investigation did discover some crew mistakes, including opening ventilation hatches to clear smoke. That "may" have caused the explosion. "But to say whether or not it would have changed the outcome," adds LCDR Woodley, "we can't." The crew eventually abandoned ship. Luckily, several rescue and other vessels were close by. But three crewmembers, George Karn, Jerry Stephens and Jose Rodas died. A fourth person trying to rescue crew members also died. "There's a lot of mixed emotions," says Trish Karn, George Karn's sister. His family still feels the loss. His body was discovered months later, in a survival suit, hundreds of miles from the accident site. Rescuers just couldn't find him. "We all think about him and the horrible feelings that he must have had to jump off that boat into the water and then to watch everyone else get rescued and be waiting and waiting." The family wants survival suits equipped with automatic tracking devices. "If that saves lives," adds Karn, "that's something that makes me feel better about the whole thing." The Coast Guard believes the crew of the Galaxy did everything it could to keep the situation under control and they acknowledged four crewmembers with medals for extraordinary heroism in their efforts to save lives. But at the same time, the Coast Guard is recommending improved safety, including increasing the amount of fire fighting equipment, training and communications for this fishing fleet.