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Coast Guard investigates deadly Freon leak

June 29, 2004

Valdez, Alaska - The Coast Guard is investigating a Freon leak on a fishing vessel that killed one man and injured another in Valdez Sunday.

The Steelhead, a 69-foot fish tender, was at the Nautilus Fish Plant in Valdez where its crew began offloading 32,000 pounds of Chum and Sockeye salmon. 

At 7:30 p.m. Sunday a crewmember discovered the master and another crewmember incapacitated in a compartment on the boat.  The crewmember found the master barely conscious and the other crewmember unconscious with blue lips.  The crewmember tried unsuccessfully to pull both men out of the space but became overcome by the Freon gas and forced to depart the space. 

The Valdez Fire Department (VFD) responded and removed both men from the vessel.  Officials pronounced one crewmember dead on arrival at the Valdez Hospital and the master of the boat in stable condition and admitted to the hospital.

The two men worked to repair the Freon leak when the gas overcame them.  The refrigeration system contained a 20 pound bottle, the source of the gas.  The Coast Guard established a 300-yard exclusion zone around the vessel and VFD personnel vented the Freon from the boat. 

The vessel also contained a significant quantity of water in the engine room.  Officials contracted a salvage company to pump the oily water from the Steelhead.  A crewmember secured the leak. 

According to information released Monday, personnel from Coast Guard Marine Safety Office Valdez will board the vessel for further investigation once a chemist certifies it safe for entry.  


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