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Boat sinks; 4 fishermen saved

The Oregonian Newspaper   

From correspondent and wire reports

ASTORIA - Four fishermen were rescued unharmed, but their cargo of 2,500 pounds of crab was lost after the 53-foot    wooden-hulled boat Sundowner sank off the Columbia River bar near Astoria.  The skipper and three crew members donned survival gear and got into a life raft after part of the stem gave way and water began rushing into the boat just after 5 p.m. Monday, according to Petty Officer Tom Coleman of the Astoria Coast Guard Station. The Sundowner crew tired two flares, which were seen by the crew of the fishing vessel Western Skies, operating nearby.

    The Western Skies picked up the Sundowner crew before a Coast Guard helicopter and lifeboat reached the scene. "It took about 18 minutes to go down it was pretty fast," Coleman said.  He said the apparent collapse of the boat's stem may have been due in part to the weight of its cargo of crab. The boat was en route to its home port of Ilwaco, Wash., when it sank in 60 feet of water one-fourth mile off the north jetty at Cape Disappointment near the mouth of the Columbia River.   The men were identified as skipper Jim Stiebritz, 30, of Long Beach, Wash.; Jim Coveyou, 34, and Steven Farnsworth, 28, both of Longview, Wash.; and Jeff Wendt, 24, of Astoria.

The cargo was worth $2,000 to $2,500.


Four rescued after crab vessel sinks

   By JOHN 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 shape.

    "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 Ilwaco.

    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.



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