F/V Blazer captain lives to tell his story

Modified: Monday, Dec 1st, 2014

NEWPORT — The Newport Fishermen’s Wives held a press conference Monday to present their latest, best case as to why the U.S. Coast Guard shouldn’t close the Newport Air Facility in two weeks.

Four of the five survivors of last Saturday’s sinking of the 75-foot F/V Blazer eight miles west of Siletz Bay said during the public event at Newport City Hall that without the helicopter’s quick response they likely would have drowned or died of hypothermia.

“I did all the appropriate things to save us,” said Blazer skipper Kelly Madden, “but if not for that helicopter, I don’t think we would be here today. I was the last one off the life raft, and hypothermia definitely was beginning to set in.”

By the numbers, Sector North Bend received a mayday at 4:17 a.m. from Madden that the Blazer was listing badly and taking on water. The crew untied the 500 crab pots stacked aboard the 75-foot steel vessel and began jettisoning them.

Not long after the emergency call, the crewmen donned their survival suits, dispatched a lifeboat, went overboard and climbed into it.

A motor lifeboat from Station Depoe Bay also responded and was launched at 4:41 a.m., followed four minutes later by the Newport helicopter heading north. It took the Dolphin aircraft 19 minutes to reach the stranded fishermen, and 16 minutes later a rescue swimmer introduced himself.

The helicopter hoisted three crewmen to safety, and the motor lifeboat, which had arrived on the scene at 6 a.m., rescued Madden and crewman Justin Haggart from their small lifeboat.

The other survivors are Luke Carson of Newport, Matt O’Neill of Lynden, Wash., and Richard McDonald of Toledo, who missed the press conference because he was already back at sea hauling crab pots.

Madden said the sinking of the Blazer in 425 feet of water was the first time he was forced to abandon ship, but after 40 years at sea he knew what to do when the ship began taking on water and listing by 50 to 60 degrees.

“I’ve been in some emergency situations before, so I got everyone together and explained each step, beginning with getting our survival suits and getting the life boat overboard,” he said. “I knew that helicopter would be coming, and we just had to wait for it.”

After the generator stopped and the lights went out, they shimmied down the port side, climbed aboard their lifeboat and waited for their rescuers. Madden was last one aboard and banged his head on the fishing boat before he joined the crew.

“When I heard the helicopter coming, I just sighed and said, ‘thank God,’ ” he said. “Never in my career have I asked for help, but I did this time. And if not for that ‘copter being so close, I don’t think we would be here. They found us just in time. That’s why here today to tell our story.”

He also intimated that his fishing days might be over.

“I don’t know yet, but I’ve got four grown kids and five grandchildren, and I’d like to see them again,” he said. “I’m definitely on the fence.”