Coast Guard watchstanders at the Juneau Command Center monitoring Channel 16 heard “mayday, vessel Masonic going down” at 2:33 a.m. and pinpointed the vessel’s last position south of Cape Decision via their automatic identification system, after attempts to reach the caller on the radio were unsuccessful.
Cape Decision is a lighthouse on Kuiu Island, southwest of Sumner Strait. The helicopter crew was launched and the Petersburg-based Cutter Anacapa headed for the area. A cruise ship in the vicinity also offered assistance.
The aircrew located the life raft on the north side of Coronation Island at about 4 a.m. with all crewmembers aboard wearing cold weather survival suits. The life raft was tied off to the stern of the grounded 62-foot fishing vessel, which is homeported in Sitka.
Coast Guard officials noted that the crew of the Masonic had received a commercial fishing vessel dockside exam prior to heading out on this fishing trip and that a Coast Guard commercial fishing safety specialist had certified the presence of emergency gear. The crew had also conducted an abandon ship drill the day before the exam, including donning of survival suits.
Capt. Stephen White, Sector Juneau Commander, said the situation highlights how being prepared is critical in this dangerous environment. “I’m thankful that the crew of the Masonic was prepared. It probably saved their lives.”
White said the vessel’s automatic identification system position was instrumental in the Coast Guard’s ability to quickly locate the survivors, taking the “search” out of search and rescue.