FORTMEYER Of The Daily Astorian
A fast-responding fishing crew from Astoria rescued
the crew of a vessel based in Ilwaco, Wash., just minutes after the
boat sank Monday evening at the mouth of the Columbia River. Rescued
safely and then returned to Ilwaco were the four people who had been
aboard the Sundowner, a 53-foot crab vessel. Making the rescue was the
three-man crew of another crab vessel, the 48-foot Western Skies.
According to U.S. Coast Guard Group Astoria, a distress call from the
Sundowner came in at 5:24 p.m. The crew reported that the vessel was
taking water at the stern uncontrollably. The boat, which was carrying
about 2,500 pounds' of crab, was near the north jetty at the time.
The crew donned survival suits, launched a life raft and fired a flare.
About three miles away was the Western Skies. Its crew had heard by
radio of the Sundowner's plight, then saw the flare.
Western Skies owner and operator Jeff Painter of Astoria hurried to the
scene along with his crew, Bill McKnight of Astoria and Jack Gibson of
Seaside. They found the Sundowner's crew clinging to the raft. By 5:43
p.m. the four were safely aboard Painter's boat, and all were in good
"It was just pure
chance," Painter said this morning. "We were all coming in right there
at dark. It was good they had those flares."
Arriving shortly after were two motor lifeboats from Coast Guard
Station Cape Disappointment near Ilwaco, and a Coast Guard rescue
helicopter from Air Station Astoria. The Coast Guard boats escorted
Painter's vessel as it returned the Sundowner crew to Ilwaco.
Aboard the Sundowner were operator Jim Stiebritz of Long
Beach, Wash.; Jim Coveyou and Steve Farnsworth, both of Longview,
Wash.; and Jeff Wendt of Astoria. The vessel is owned by Tom Dicello of
The cause of the sinking is uncertain. Both Painter and a Coast Guard
spokesman said it probably was not related to the weather. The Coast
Guard spokesman said the age of the Sundowner might have been a factor.
Since the accident, the Coast Guard has issued hourly warnings to local
boaters to avoid hitting the wreckage of the Sundowner, located about a
third of a mile off the jetty. According to the Coast Guard, rough
weather this morning was already causing the boat to start breaking up
and there was little hope it could be salvaged. At current prices, the
crab cargo would be worth $2,125 to $2,750.