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News / Northwest

Community determined to find missing fisherman

By Clayton Franke, The Daily World
Published: February 15, 2023, 10:11am

Aberdeen — More than one week has lapsed since the fishing vessel Ethel May capsized near Willapa Bay and left one crew member missing on Feb. 5, but the man still hasn’t been found despite a growing effort to do so by the community and Pacific County officials.

The search is for Bryson Fitch, 25, crab fisherman, husband, and father of three young children.

An outpouring of support for the family of Fitch — and for the effort to find him — has swept the community since the Ethel May capsized. A Facebook group called “Bring Bryson Home” was created in the days following the incident, which has helped share location information about search efforts.

The group had about 700 members Feb. 8, but that number grew to about 3,400 by Monday afternoon, Feb. 13.

“There is a huge community support and volunteers all over the county,” said Pacific County Sheriff Daniel Garcia on Friday in an interview. “There are some combing the beaches on foot, there are some flying drones, there are some who have their personal boats that are searching areas and coastlines.”

Garcia said a family member of Fitch recently flew a plane over Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor coastlines in search of Fitch.

The Pacific County Sheriff’s Office is using a drone to search hard-to-reach areas, including rocky coastlines and shallow waters. Garcia said he and others from the office reassess possible search areas each evening after combing through reports from the community.

Various debris from the wrecked Ethel May, including pieces of wood, survival suits and what appeared to be the stern of the ship, has washed ashore since the boat went down. On Facebook, community members have shared numerous debris findings.

Garcia said a majority of the debris has been found on the coast between Tokeland and Westport, although some has been found in Willapa Bay. Garcia said the sheriff’s office is working to plot the debris findings with hopes to find some kind of pattern in order to better utilize resources.

Pacific County Sheriff’s Office Commander Mike Parker said the office is committed to the search “as much as personnel and calls and schedules allow.”

Parker noted the substantial support from the community.

“Out of this tragic thing, these tragic circumstances, it’s really heartwarming to see the community come together like this,” Parker said.

Two other crew members of the Ethel May were rescued by the Coast Guard shortly after the capsizing.

At approximately 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5, the Coast Guard was alerted of the distressed boat by Pacific County Dispatch, which received a 911 call from the wife of an Ethel May crew member. The Coast Guard also received a transmission from the ship’s emergency beacon.

Arriving on scene to 12-foot seas and 20-mph winds roughly 40 minutes later, the Coast Guard lifted two crew members from a floating life raft and took them to a Raymond hospital. Fitch, the third crew member, could not be located.

The official cause of the boat’s capsizing has not yet been determined. The Coast Guard was the leading agency for the initial search, which spanned 290 square miles and lasted 15 hours, and was called off the day after the capsizing.

“There is a verified GoFundMe where people can support the search effort and Fitch’s family,” according to organizers. “He was the sole provider for his wife and children, so they need help covering the bills while they continue to pray for his return.”

To view the GoFundMe, go to https://gf.me/v/c/gclb/help-support-fitch-family.

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