Probe of boat's sinking leads to crab pot lines

4 died in fishing vessel incident off Leadbetter Point

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WARRENTON, Ore. — Testimony in a second round of hearings into a fishing vessel that sank off the Washington Coast, killing all four people on board, has raised the possibility that the boat got tangled in crab pot lines.

The Lady Cecilia sank quickly March 10 about 20 miles west of Leadbetter Point. The crew could neither escape nor send a distress signal.

Before that, skipper Dave Nichols had called a nearby boat to say he had 70,000 pounds of fish and was headed for a processing plant.

Aboard were Nichols, 43, of Astoria, Ore.; Jason Bjaranson, 38, of Warrenton; junior deckhand Luke Jensen, 22, of Ilwaco; and fisheries observer Christopher Langel, 25, of Kaukauna, Wis.

In September, the U.S. Coast Guard and a salvage ship found the Lady Cecilia in more than 300 feet of water about 20 miles west of Willapa Bay. The vessel was examined via camera on a remote-controlled sub, the Daily Astorian reported.

"There were crab pots that were pulled down for some reason," said Kurt Ward, co-owner of an underwater construction and salvage company who helped the sub's operator navigate. He said the remote-controlled vehicle got tangled in the lines, and a diver had to cut it free.

Ward said the group identified what appeared to be a crab pot line coming up from the Lady Cecilia's rudder, and three crab pot buoys eventually would be cut from it.

They saw no stabilizing device on one side of the Lady Cecilia, a "flopper stopper" designed to reduce rolling, Ward said. The other side had its stabilizer.

Ward said the vessel might have run into multiple crab pot lines, started listing to the left while caught on the lines, rolled in the opposite direction when the stabilizer snapped off, and quickly capsized.

The buoys cut free were registered to Robert Brisco, a Washington crabber who testified by telephone that he lost 44 crab pots in the last season.