Paul Revere: A Story of Survival on Bristol Bay


[music playing] [waves crashing]>>Shannon Ford: And it was
almost as if I instantly didn’t even have a boat.>>Don Ward: I saw a
big, kind of roller, kind of wave coming in.>>Shannon Ford: And
there was an actual moment when the balance of the
boat changed, and it might have been only
an inch or two-degree wise.>>Don Ward: It just
completely swamped and overwhelmed the
back of the boat.>>Shannon Ford:
And I said guys, get in the bow, we’re going to go down”. Male Speaker: Late on
the night of June 26th, 2010, a large wave capsized
the setnet skiff Paul Revere, throwing the crew into the
waters of Bristol Bay. The crew survived in
the water for two hours because of the inflatable
personal flotation devices they where as part of
their standard work gear. Bristol Bay is home to
the largest salmon fishing fleet in Alaska. Set nets are gill nets
anchored to the shore and stretched out into the
water perpendicular to the beach to catch salmon
as they run along the coastlines towards
their spawning grounds. Fisherman often use
open skiffs, like the Paul Revere to work the
nets and harvest the salmon.>>Shannon Ford: There had been
a slight pressure change in the weather, which we
do pay attention to, and I commented
something about, “Well, we might get
a little pounding”, but that’s nothing unusual
because the weather up there changes a lot.>>Don Ward: I took
our ATV to go drive along the beach to the fishing
site because we’re going to go set the net.>>Shannon Ford:
So, we got in the boat, and then we were going — I was taking our
new crewmen with me.>>Don Ward: There were
these rollers on the shore.>>Shannon Ford:
And what happened was, we came up and the current
grabbed us, and basically threw
us onto the beach.>>Don Ward: I rushed
out to go help push it off. Tyler hopped out of the
boat to go help push it off.>>Shannon Ford:
We probably worked for I don’t know,
20 minutes or something. It seemed like
a long time.>>Don Ward: The boat had
taken on a lot of water as well, but after a couple of tries we finally got the boat
off the beach.>>Shannon Ford:
I had Tyler get in the bow and haul the net up with him.>>Don Ward:
Initially it’s like, okay, can I bail a little bit, no. We need to get the
pump off and going. Our neighbors
had a running line. The setnet anchored
line that’s there, and it didn’t have
a light on it.>>Don Ward:
You know, I learned later, we went and caught
a running line, our neighbor’s running line.>>Shannon Ford: The current
was running this way, and we stopped,
which means more water is coming in over the stern, so
at that point everything happened really fast.>>Don Ward: So I’m
getting the pump up and going, and everything is fine.>>Shannon Ford:
But whenever I raise the motor even a little bit, it
pushed the stern down with the weight, and I didn’t
want to do that, so I tried jogging it a couple
of times and then I’m thinking, you know, what can I do
really fast, you know.>>Don Ward:
Behind Shannon’s shoulder I saw a big kind of roller,
kind of wave coming in, and it just completely swamped and overwhelmed
the back of the boat.>>Shannon Ford:
And it was almost as if I instantly didn’t
even have a boat. It was no longer a
concern or anything, and I said, “guys get in the bow, we’re going to go down.”>>Don Ward: You know,
the boat starts going down, and going down,
and going down, and we’re scrabbling up
the boat to get to the top, and we just thought it was
going to go sink like that.>>Shannon Ford: And so
when it went down part way it flipped up back over us, and pinned us in the water. I was inhaling water. I was screaming. I started flailing
around underneath the boat and I couldn’t
feel the guys.>>Don Ward: And I
went and locked right on to Shannon’s arm and I
went and tugged myself first and then with the
other arm, I went and gave Shannon a tug, and we
popped out of the boat.>>Shannon Ford:
We all wear the Mustang self-inflating PFDs with
the CO2 cartridge that fires when it gets wet,
and we all have them on. Dawn and I have been in
the back, and we have had so much water washing
around by that point that our vests had fired. It was amazing because
it instantly just molded to you, and it held
in your core heat, which is something that I had
not thought about, and it supported your head.>>Don Ward: Plus all the gear
that we have on for fishing. The weight of me
is probably, 240 to 250 pounds. Tyler our deckhand is
six foot eight, and with all his gear and that
put together, he weighs about 300 pounds and
the PFDs were keeping us well above the water.>>Shannon Ford: You
know, originally we were just going to
stay with boat. And we yelled, we did
all the stuff to attract attention but there
was no one there.>>Don Ward: And there
wasn’t really any good way that we could get purchase
and hold onto, you know, the aluminum sides
of the boat and what not, and you know Shannon
got swept off at one point, and I had to go reach out and
snag her and you know get her back on board.>>Shannon Ford: So we
decided to abandon the boat because we needed to
get out of the water, so we had Tyler drop off the
bow and when he got to us, we all grabbed on. So we started kind of
floating along and we talked each other through
it, you know let’s kind of use this motion, and
conserve energy, and go kind of, trying to angle
into shore, but not trying to do a perpendicular line
because that will just tire you out.>>Don Ward: What these
PFDs did is it went and created one less worry
for us, and instead of worrying about
staying afloat and expending energy
to stay afloat, we were able to go take stock of
the situation and figure out what we needed to do
to get out of the water rather than figure out
what we could do to survive in the water. We actually were making
pretty good progress, except that the point is
the closer we got to land, the faster the current got, and it kind of created
a sling shot effect where it flipped
us right around.>>Shannon Ford: There was
a line and there was buoy, and just as we were
saying, we were past it, and then we realized
proportionally how fast we were going along
in the current.>>Male Speaker:
The crew passed numerous setnet lines and fish camps,
signaling the entire time with a flashlight, and
firing off rounds from a 357 handgun. When none of these
efforts raised an alarm, the crew turned their
attention to self-rescue because soon the tide
would turn and sweep them out to sea.>>Don Ward:
I was side-stroking like crazy to go get to the next running
line which we did, and this particular case is a
really thin, running line.>>Shannon Ford: But
then we had real problems because there were three
of us with a big drag and it pushed the whole line
under water, so I have the shortest arms compared to
the guys and I was just drinking water.>>Don Ward: Probably
one of the hardest things to do at that night was
actually let go of that running line because
Shannon couldn’t breathe and she let go, and Tyler
and I weren’t going to go let Shannon wash
off by herself.>>Shannon Ford:
But the next net that we hit was about 1,200
to 1,400 feet line going straight into shore, and it was going
straight into our camp. The line belonged
to my cousin.>>Don Ward:
We decided that we had a different strategy this time; we were going to go split apart. Since I was able to swim better, I was going to go
race up the line into camp as fast as I could
while Tyler and Shannon would make their
way up by themselves.>>Shannon Ward:
So I just held onto him like a little kid
in a floatie pool, and Tyler walked in until my
feet could touch and then I just told him,
“go, go, go, go”, and I literally
crawled on to shore.>>Don Ward: I continued
to go stagger up the bluff because I know
that Shannon’s cousin is a registered nurse and I
knew that she would be able to go help us out,
and I had pretty much just about enough
strength at that point to get to their cabin door, knock on it,
wake it up, wake them up, and it was that point,
it was like collapse.>>Male Speaker:
The crew survived in the water for almost two hours
because they were able to stay afloat
with their PFDs. They went back to
fishing within days.>>Don Ward: If, you
know, if we did not have the PFDs during this
accident, you know, I don’t think that we
would’ve been able to survive.>>Male Speaker: Salmon
fishermen have the highest number of fatalities among
fishermen in Alaska: 47 deaths between
2000 and 2012.>>Shannon Ford: It is
an industry with fatalities and we had two funerals
this last summer, and two the summer before,
all from people who were not wearing PFDs, such a small investment
that you can take. Put it on. It’s not uncomfortable. And so the PFDs,
they kept us afloat, of course, as their purpose. They also insulated the
core, which is what you want to protect in a cold
situation, and so that helped a lot, and the third
thing I think is just as important, it was a mental
boost because suddenly you felt like I don’t have
to worry about that component. It’s taken care of. I can concentrate on
directing us toward shore or anything like that. None of our energy or
mental focus was wasted on, “Oh, I’ve got to
stay,” you know I mean we did have to move with the
waves a little bit but I think that that mental
boost of having something that was working
like a charm, it really helps
in a survival situation.>>Male Speaker:
For more information on choosing a PFD that’s
right for you visit our website at CDC.gov. [music playing]

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