Would-be good Samaritan sinks during rescue attempt

Passengers cross over from Flipper to a recreational fishing boat that came to their aid. (Debra Arteaga)

A dolphin sightseeing boat sank during a good Samaritan response to a capsized fishing vessel in a strong tidal current off Texas. The operator said the tourist boat’s hatch covers weren’t screwed on properly.

The Coast Guard said M/V Flipper, with 18 occupants, was 100 yards south of the Port Aransas jetties when a 21-foot Kenner bay fishing boat capsized at about 1110 on Oct. 18, 2008. The three fishermen were dumped into the water.

Another fisherman “was able to pick up and bring all three people in his boat," the Coast Guard said in a statement. “In the process, a dolphin sightseeing boat trying to assist, motor vessel Flipper, capsized."

Flipper had 15 passengers and a crew of three. All occupants were evacuated safely before the 31.8-foot vessel flipped over, according to witnesses and the boat’s owner, Dolphin Dock of Port Aransas.

The rescued fishermen were “just coming into port when my attention was diverted to a man on the dolphin boat pouring water out of the boat with a bucket," said an eyewitness, Debra Arteaga of San Antonio.

The crew of Flipper awaits rescue as their vessel approaches the tipping point. (Debra Arteaga)

“I thought that it was odd and told my husband that I didn’t think the boat was going to make it. … My stomach was really rolling, hoping that all the people would get off safely and not be thrown into the water," she said.

“The crew at first was having trouble with the life jackets, but they untangled them from the webbing and everyone put one on," Arteaga continued. “The boat then began to slightly roll starboard. A fishing boat turned around and took off some people and then a second boat came and more passengers got on that boat. A Coast Guard boat came and took off the remaining three people that I think were the crew.

“The boat then rolled over and was taken by the current out into the ship channel where it sank."

Capt. Paul Dirk of Dolphin Dock said Flipper‘s hatch covers failed.

“The boat took one wave and started to take water through the inspection hatch covers," Dirk said. “They were pop-on covers and the Coast Guard had issued an order for them to be screwed on, but we never got the word. Once water started pouring through the seals in the starboard hatch, the boat was a goner."

Not only was Flipper never salvaged, it vanished.

“We looked for Flipper near the jetty with two divers for two days, but found nothing," said Capt. Jason Wendt, owner of the Sea Tow location in Corpus Christi. “I figure it was pushed deeper out into the ship channel by the very strong currents in the area."

Lt. Armell Balmaceda of Coast Guard Station Port Aransas declined to provide further details.

“The Coast Guard has closed the case and will take no further action," Balmaceda said.

The dolphin-watching boat was named after the dolphin from the 1960s television series “Flipper," Dirk said.

Larry Pearson

By Professional Mariner Staff