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The sad case of the Destination

On Feb. 9, 2017, the Destination, a 110-foot-long crabbing boat, pulled up anchor in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, and headed out into the Bering Sea. Neither it nor its six passengers were ever seen again. As reported by the Anchorage Daily News, David Wilson, president of the corporation who owned the boat, received a call from the U.S. Coast Guard on February 11, informing him that it found the Destination’s emergency locator beacon about three miles northwest of St. George Island

An intensive search ensued, but after three days the only things found were a buoy, some tarps, some other debris and a small oil slick. Finally on July 8, according to an Anchorage Daily News follow-up story, the Fairweather, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship, located the Destination in 250 feet of water by means of multibeam sonar

Captain and crew

The bodies of Destination captain Jeff Hathaway and his five crew members, Kai Hamik, Charles G. Jones, Larry O’Grady, Darrik Seibold and Raymond Vincler, were never recovered. While there was little doubt that the men had died at sea, without bodies, grieving family members could not obtain the death certificates required to settle their loved ones’ affairs.

Consequently, an unusual legal proceeding, known as a presumptive death hearing, took place on March 20, 2017. After a day of testimony and 15 minutes of deliberation by the jury, all six men of the Destination’s crew were declared legally dead.

Alaskan rarities

Presumptive death hearings are quite rare in Alaska. Only 20 such hearings occurred statewide in 2016. Usually they convene after a hiker or camper disappears in the wilderness, never to reappear.

The Marine Board of Investigation, the highest Coast Guard investigatory level, received orders to conduct a full investigation into the Destination’s fate. This, too, is a rare occurrence, not only in Alaska, but also nationwide. In the past seven years, only two other such investigations occurred. One resulted from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The other resulted from the 2015 loss of the El Faro, a cargo ship that went down in the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin.

In the case of the Destination, the following three factors played into the decision to order this third investigation:

  1. Six people lost their lives.
  2. The Destination sustained over $500,000 in damage.
  3. No one yet knows what caused the accident.

The Alaskan fishing and crabbing industries are renowned worldwide. The sad story of the Destination and its crew serves as a grim reminder that going out to sea in Alaska is a dangerous occupation.

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