SUSAN STAMBERG, host:
For the Alaska fishing industry, this week was marred by tragedy. Early Sunday morning, the trawler Alaska Ranger sank in the Bering Sea. One crewmember is still missing; four others died, including the captain. The Coast Guard is investigating what happened.
In the meantime, firsthand accounts of the rescue of 42 survivors tell a heroic story.
From member-station KIAL in Unalaska, Alaska, Charles Homans reports.
CHARLES HOMANS: It was just before 3:00 in the morning on Easter when the Coast Guard received a mayday call from the Alaska Ranger. The large fishing boat had run into trouble in the Bering Sea, just north of the Aleutian Islands.
(Soundbite of radio transmission)
Unidentified Man: We are (unintelligible), taking on water in the rudder room.
HOMANS: The man at the helm of the Alaska Ranger was Eric Peter Jacobsen, the ship's 65-year-old captain. Jacobsen was a veteran mariner, a third-generation sea captain from Massachusetts who'd worked on boats in Alaska for more than three decades.
In the ship's wheelhouse, the Alaska Ranger's crewmembers gathered around him silently, wearing the floppy orange survival suits that fishermen sometimes call Gumby suits. They were waiting for the order to abandon ship. One of them was Mark Hagerman(ph), the ship's assistant cook.
Mr. MARK HAGERMAN (Assistant Cook, Alaska Ranger): The captain told us to be quiet so they could communicate and everything, and everybody's just kind of running around like chickens with their heads cut off wondering what they hell's going to happen. Is this really real?
HOMANS: The Alaska Ranger's rudder had apparently come loose, and the ship was filling with water. From the wheelhouse, Hagerman watched as the back end began to drop lower and lower into the sea.
Mr. HAGERMAN: The first time I'd seen a wave crash over the back of the boat, I knew that we were - that it wasn't going to stop sinking, but you know, you're just trying to think better thing and trying to help people, you know, people get survival suits on and stuff like that, and I kept going outside and looking at the back of the boat. It was pretty dark at that point because we lost power, but you could see the waves getting higher and higher up the back of the boat.
HOMANS: The crew began launching life rafts. As Hagerman clambered overboard into the icy waters of the Bering Sea, he saw Jacobsen for the last time, still at the helm of the doomed ship.
Mr. HAGERMAN: The last thing that he said to me was that I needed to get off the boat and try to get the life raft. He was still on the radio, trying to stay in contact with the Coast Guard. He was the only one in the wheelhouse.
HOMANS: As Hagerman swam away, he saw the bow of the Alaska Ranger rise up out of the sea one last time then disappear. In the distance, he could see two lights. One belonged to the Alaska Ranger's sister-ship, the Alaska Warrior. The other belonged to the Coast Guard cutter Monroe.
(Soundbite of machinery)
HOMANS: On the bridge of the Monroe, Captain Craig Lloyd watched as one of the Coast Guard's helicopters raced overhead towards the survivors.
Captain CRAIG LLOYD (United States Coast Guard): The people were strung out in their survival suits, over the range of about a mile.
HOMANS: One of them was Hagerman, who was trying to stay afloat while growing dangerously cold and choking on diesel fuel. He saw the helicopter approaching.
Mr. HAGERMAN: It was the best feeling I ever had in my life when I'd seen that Coast Guard helicopter, because I had made my peace with the Lord about 10 minutes before that.
HOMANS: A Coast Guard rescue swimmer dropped into the water and helped Hagerman into a life raft. He was brought about the Monroe and arrived safely on dry land Monday night. So did 41 other members of the crew, but five men didn't make it. One of them, Satoshi Konno, was never found.
The Coast Guard recovered the bodies of chief engineer Daniel Cook, mate David Silveira, and crewman Byron Carrillo, all of whom apparently died of exposure in the cold water. The fifth victim was Jacobsen. He had done exactly what was expected of a ship's captain, staying aboard the Alaska Ranger until everyone under his supervision got off in one piece. Karen Jacobsen, the captain's daughter, says that doesn't surprise her at all.
Ms. KAREN JACOBSON (Daughter of Mr. Eric Peter Jacobsen, Captain of the Alaska Ranger): He died probably doing what he would have wanted to. You know, he always said that he would go down with his ship if necessary, you know, to make sure everybody was safe.
HOMANS: Eric Peter Jacobsen will be laid to rest tomorrow in Seattle. For NPR News, I'm Charles Homans in Unalaska.
STAMBERG: And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.