Workboat crewman dies after urging rescuers to assist crewmate

One crewman was killed after a 47-foot steel workboat capsized near a San Francisco beach. The crewman who died had waved off a potential rescuer, believing another crewman was in more danger.

The vessel may have been damaged in an earlier collision with a dock.

The U.S. Coast Guard said the 52-year-old mariner from San Anselmo, Calif., was lost at sea April 9 after his inflatable lifeboat also capsized following the capsizing of the workboat near Ocean Beach.

Two men were in the utility boat Richardson's Bay on their way to Pacifica, Calif., to retrieve an adrift skiff when the initial accident happened at about 1355, said Lt. j.g. Laura Williams, a Coast Guard spokeswoman. They encountered 20-knot winds and eight-foot swells, with visibility of eight miles, she said.

The man who died had initially evacuated successfully into a Zodiac inflatable boat, with a life jacket. The other man, age 53, entered the 57° water with a life ring but no floatation vest.

They were able to broadcast a mayday call. A witness on the beach also reported the capsizing by phone. A nearby kite surfer approached the site and reached the man in the small boat first, before Coast Guard and city rescue boats arrived.

"The kite surfer came up to the Zodiac and talked to the person," Williams said. "The person in the Zodiac said he was OK, but there was another person in the water."

So the kite surfer went over to the other man, who was clinging to the life ring, and stayed with that victim until a Coast Guard small boat picked him up. While that was happening, the Zodiac capsized and its occupant fell into the water and was lost.

"During that time, we lost sight of the Zodiac and the person in it," Williams said.

Searchers later found the missing man's Zodiac and life jacket washed up on the beach, she said.

The Coast Guard originally reported that Richardson's Bay was a tugboat. Later, the Coast Guard described the vessel as a stern trawler fishing vessel that had been converted to a utility boat that functioned as a workboat and tug.

The Coast Guard would release no other information on the cause of the capsizing. Authorities investigated a report that Richardson's Bay may have been damaged in a separate accident earlier that day.

"That boat hit the side of a pier in the city," said San Francisco Police spokesman Lt. Troy Dangerfield. No further details, including time and place, were available on that incident.

City firefighters responded to the capsizing. By that time, the sea state was too dangerous for a rescue attempt, said fire department spokeswoman Lt. Aisha Krieger, citing an incident report. She said swells were 10 feet, with winds gusting to 30 knots.

The survivor suffered from mild hypothermia and shock. Vessels and a helicopter searched for the rest of the day, but never located the other man. Williams said his body was found a week later, three miles away off Fort Funston.

By Professional Mariner Staff