BY NAN NELSON
GARIBALDI The body of a third man who died after a 55-foot commercial crab boat broke up last week near the mouth of Tillamook Bay was found Monday, authorities reported.
Tillamook County Sheriff's deputies said a beachcomber on the Bay Ocean spit reported finding a body later identified as that of Craig Larsen, 32, of Warrenton, at 8:48 a.m. Deputies said the body was found near the area where Larsen's boat, the Catherine M., went down at about 1:15 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7.
The bodies of two crew members Jeff King, 30, of Garibaldi, and Trona Griffin, 30, of Rockaway Beach had been found last week on the beach near Cape Meares.
Authorities Monday were still awaiting the results of autopsies performed on the two crewmen. The accident is under investigation by the Sheriff's Office, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard.
Barview resident Ann Barkholtz, told Coast Guard and Sheriff's investigators she witnessed the incident from her living room, which overlooks the jetties and the ocean.
She said she was watching television around 1 a.m. when she noticed a boat sitting just off the jetty.
"I was startled," she said. "I knew the boat wasn't in position to enter the bay. I knew if he came forward he would be on the south side of the jetty, and you don't see boats in that position."
Barkholtz said she continued to watch and could see the boat being tossed about in the large, crashing waves. As soon as she saw the red warning flares, she said she called the Coast Guard.
"When you see those flares, they're screaming for help," she said.
As she spoke with Coast Guard officials, directing them to the location, she said she saw the boat go straight down in the middle of huge waves. "He's gone," she exclaimed. "He just went down. His lights have gone out."
At the time, 10- to 12-foot seas were reported with occasional waves of 14 to 16 feet breaking over the bar. The water temperature at this time of the year on the Oregon coast is about 50 degrees.
Coast Guard officials said the distress flares also were reported by Doug Brown, skipper of the fishing vessel Kilchis. They said they immediately launched two 47-foot life boats and two helicopters to search the area where the flares were sighted. Along with the Tillamook County Sheriff's Office, the Tillamook County Search and Rescue and the Garibaldi Fire Department, they searched approximately 72 square miles of ocean during the effort.
Authorities said debris from the wreck was strewn along a two-mile path on the spit. Among the debris, they said, were four survival suits, an inflated raft, flashlights, shoes and a life ring from the boat.
The search was suspended Wednesday morning.
Coast Guard officials said they received no communications from the Catherine M. before it went down. But, investigators said that, hours earlier, Larsen made two phone calls from the boat.
He called his fiancee, Jessica Hippensteel, around 9:30 p.m. Monday night, Feb. 6, asking her to pick him up in Garibaldi in the morning. He placed a second call to his cousin, Contessa Sturgell, in Warrenton at about 9:45 to let her know he had a broken crab lock and boat anchor wrench.
Sturgell said Larson told her he was heading to Garibaldi because it was the closest place to find a mechanic. Sturgell said he didn't seem stressed and the boat was not suffering from mechanical problems.
Sturell said that, during their conversation, Larsen complained about the boat, which, she said had been experiencing an array of problems.
She quoted him as saying, "This boat will be the death of me. I've had it; it's always broken down."
Retired Garibaldi commercial fisherman Fred Hamann said he believes the fishermen knew they were in "dire straits" and pulled the survival suits and raft out on the deck.
Hamann said he had his own concerns about conditions at the jetties that Monday night. He said his son, who skippers the Willapa Maid, called in around 8 p.m.Monday to inquire about jetty conditions. Hamman said he told him it was "a very dangerous night and a deadly bar."
Hamann said he suggested that the Willapa Maid wait until morning before coming in.
"The waves that come across are dangerous and very dramatic. If one of them hits a boat, you have kindling left," he said.
Despite the warning, Hamann said, his son's boat came in safely.
According to Hamann, a commercial boat hasn't been lost in this area since the 1990s, when the Kodiak, a fishing boat out of Alaska, tried to cross in dangerous conditions and sank.
In Portland, a Coast Guard spokesman said investigators are examining physical evidence from the wreck and will interview people, such as former crew members, who know something about the Catherine M.
"In the absence of anybody on board the ship, a survivor, it makes it that much harder to piece together what happened," said Coast Guard Ens. Nick Barrow. "An investigation that involves a death can sometimes take up to a year," he said.
Tillamook County Sheriff Todd Anderson said the Coast Guard would be in charge of determining what caused the boat to break up.
Anderson said King's uncle, George Vandercovering, was one of three fishermen who died 20 years ago on Feb. 8, when the fishing vessel Ms. Dana, capsized while attempting to cross the Tillamook bar.