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A hero’s last call

lead_insideThe captain of a sinking 75-foot fishing boat died after making a dramatic mayday call that saved his three crewmembers in the Gulf of Alaska.

Robert Royer, 54, captain of the Northern Belle, made the distress call over the VHF at 5:30 p.m. April 20, according to Petty Officer Sara Francis, a Coast Guard spokeswoman. Northern Belle was taking on water and sank within three minutes about 50 miles south of Montague Island, says Francis.

"The captain wanted to be the last one in the water and he went in on his own," she says.

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Click play for the mayday call and footage of the rescue. Mobile users, click here to watch on YouTube.

Royer died after suffering head trauma while getting off the boat, according to published reports.

"To his great credit, he gave a precise position - a starting point for us," says Cmdr. Joe Deer, operations officer of Air Station Kodiak. "His actions, based on everything I've learned, saved his crew. Had he not gone into the cabin and made the distress call, the outcome of this would have been very dire."

The survivors - Nicole Esau, 36, of Ketchikan, Alaska; Tod Knivila, 48, of Seattle; and Robert Jack, 52, of Federal Way, Wash. - spent more than two hours in the 40-degree water. Seas were running 3 to 5 feet, and air temperature was 36 F. They were able to put on survival suits before Northern Belle went down, says Francis.

"The ship did have a life raft that deployed, but it drifted away from the survivors more quickly than they anticipated and they couldn't get to it," she says.

A Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules aircraft arrived first and deployed life rafts, says Francis. Two of the survivors held on to large pieces of lumber that had been aboard the Northern Belle and the third was able to climb into one of the Coast Guard life rafts, she says.

A rescue swimmer found Royer floating in his survival suit.

After Royer was airlifted, the survivors, who were suffering from hypothermia, were also picked up by the Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter.

The Coast Guard received no EPIRB distress signal and no beacon was found in the vessel debris, says Francis. As a commercial fishing vessel, Northern Belle was required to carry an EPIRB.

Francis says the investigation into the cause of the sinking will take up to a year to complete.

Learn how to place a proper mayday call. Click here.

Stories in this issue:
A hero’s last call
Production hybrid on the horizon
Launching a supercat
2010: an active hurricane season

Comments (6) Comments are closed
6 Saturday, 01 May 2010 15:36
Linda J. Sadler
What a sad situation. I am a member of the US Coast Guard Auxilairy, the volunteer arm of the Coast Guard. I am proud to be affiliated with those that risk their lives so that others that encounter such situations at sea may live.
5 Saturday, 01 May 2010 14:39
E Davis
Men of the sea are a hearty bunch, my family have been commercial fisherman in Maine for generations. We have seen our share of loss...these men are a rare breed and should be respected by all. God bless this man and his family and may the survivors embrace the gift they have received.
4 Friday, 30 April 2010 17:30
Captain Louie
The captain truly is a hero and an example for us all.
May his family find comfort in that he died at doing what he loved to do.
3 Friday, 30 April 2010 17:27
Captain Louie
To hear that actual Mayday call is horrifying. I could hear the terror in his voice. His bravery and sense of responsibilyt saved his crew what a heo and an example for all of us Mariners
2 Friday, 30 April 2010 02:16
"The Lord is my Pilot, I shall not drift. He guides me across the dark waters. He steers me in deep channels. He keeps my log. He pilots me by the star of holiness for His name's sake. Yea, though I sail 'mid the fenders and tempests of life I shall dread no danger for He is near me. His love and care shelter me. He prepares a harbor before me in the homeland of eternity. He anoints the waves with oil, my ship rides calmly. Surely sunlight and starlight shall favor me on my voyages and I will rest in the Port of our Lord forever. " ~The 23rd Psalm as interpreted by an unknown mariner.

Captain. May God keep you, comfort you, and hold you in his arms forever,
1 Thursday, 29 April 2010 23:31
John H. Dorroh. Jr.
Next time I see my friend, Web, who is an officer in the Coast Guard and was stationed in Alaska...think I'll give him a big hug and tell him how proud I am for this organization, The US Coast Guard!
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