January 01, 2005
Tom Young age 41 and John Bell age 37, both of Sitka, located a handheld radio as they departed the vessel and used it to broadcast their Mayday alert. The Coast Guard received this alert and issued an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast before directing Coast Guard Air Station Sitka to dispatch a rescue helicopter and crew to the scene.
The fishing vessel Fishtales, four miles away, arrived shortly before the Coast Guard helicopter.
Once on scene, the Coast Guard helicopter crew illuminated the debris field, shedding light on the vessel's former occupants, one of whom appeared face down in the water. The other could only wave an arm to attract the attention of rescuers. The Fishtale's crew pulled the two distressed persons free from the icy waters and beached their own vessel nearby to offload and transfer them to the waiting Coast Guard helicopter.
Officials reported that after a 15-minute struggle to transfer Bell from the Fishtales to the Jayhawk, the aircrew, realizing survival time was running short for Bell, made a difficult choice. Faced with risking the lives of two persons rather than saving one, they elected to depart the scene at that time to rush Bell to waiting emergency medical personnel at Sitka airport, rather than take additional time to load the unresponsive Young into the helicopter.
According to the USCG, Bell wore a float coat while Young wore only a jacket, an inflatable vest without Coast Guard approval, providing the wearer some flotation, but little protection from exposure.
The Coast Guard crew transported Bell to Sitka where officials there listed him in stable condition at Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital. According to information provided by the Alaska State Troopers, Bell was treated for hypothermia and released.
The vessel Fishtales anchored overnight near Baby Bear and intended to transport the body back to Sitka Friday morning. The Sitka police department and a chaplain made next of kin notifications to Young's family.
According to the Alaska State Troopers, no foul play is suspected.
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