It’s been just over a month since the F/V Scandies Rose sunk west of Kodiak.
Two fishermen were rescued from a life raft. They were wearing “gumby” survival suits. The other five crew members — as well as their 130-foot crab boat — were never found.
Dean Gribble grew up in Washington. He began salmon tendering when he was 11 years old, and he’s spent the past 21 years crab fishing.
“I was born a commercial fisherman,” said Gribble. “It’s in my blood. My dad and my family have all been in it. Other kids grew up having football or baseball players as their heroes, and I had crabbers as mine.”
On New Year’s Eve 2019, Gribble hadn’t planned to be on the Scandies Rose, which is based in Dutch Harbor, but a crew member quit in late December, and his friend, John Lawler, asked him to fill in.
“John called me the 28th,” said Gribble. “I flew up the 29th. We left the 30th, which is my birthday. We sank the 31st. I was home on the 1st.”
Gribble describes it as a “whirlwind” — everything that happened between 10 p.m. on Dec. 31, when the crew hit the mayday button, and 2 a.m. on New Year’s Day, when he and Lawler were rescued by a U.S. Coast Guard swimmer.
Gribble was woken up by Lawler yelling that the boat was going down. He said the vessel was taking on ice and listing to the side amid 30-foot seas, well-below-freezing temperatures and 40 mph winds.
“I started passing out the suits to everybody,” said Gribble. “We’re listing really hard at this point. I tried to get my suit on on the ground, and I couldn’t because I kept sliding down towards the starboard side. I jumped up in the bench and used the armrests as a foothold, and I was able to get my suit on about halfway. The armrest I was using broke, so I started sliding down.”
He finally got outside on the deck on his fourth try, and then the generator shut off and the lights cut out.
“Now it’s just loud,” said Gribble. “All you hear is the creaking of the steel — the waves slamming into the boat. And it’s sinking. It’s going fast.”
Gribble helped Lawler get his survival suit on, and they tied themselves together with a rope.
“I’m screaming at these other guys,” he said. “I’m screaming at them to get out of the boat, and they were trying. I was trying to find something to throw back in so they could use it to climb out. I couldn’t find anything, because everything was so icy. I just couldn’t get anything, and the boat was going down.”
Gribble said he’s been involved in searches for lost crews before, and he didn’t have any hope that he and his crew mates would survive.
“I knew I was going to die,” said Gribble. “My main concern was just trying to get out so maybe they could get my body or something for my family to get closure.”
At that point, Gribble and Lawler jumped off the deck and into the water as the rest of the crew remained on the boat.
“Now I’m alone in the dark, floating in 20, 30-foot seas,” said Gribble. “Just any fishermen’s nightmare. I see the boat penciled — straight up and down in the air. The bow was straight up in the air, and then it sinks. My heart drops. I tried to do everything I could to get those guys out. I tried everything. I was screaming at them, ‘You’ve got to get out of the boat!'”
Gribble saw a fluorescent life raft about 500 feet away, and he and Lawler swam to it.
Once inside, they bailed water and waited in the dark for about four hours. Then, a crew from Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak found them and transported them to a hospital in Kodiak, where they were treated for hypothermia.
The rescuers said Gribble and Lawler wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for their suits and the life raft.
The search for the Scandies Rose and her remaining crew was suspended less than 24 hours later. It spanned more than 1,400 square miles and included four MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews, two HC-130 Hercules airplane crews and the Coast Guard Cutter Mellon.
The five missing fishermen are Gary Cobban, Jr., David Lee Cobban, Arthur Ganacias, Brock Rainey and Seth Rousseau-Gano.
Gribble is currently home with his family. He said it’s going to be awhile until he gets back out on a boat.
Meanwhile, Coast Guard officials said they don’t know yet how long it’ll take to complete their investigation into the cause of the sinking.
The loss of the F/V Scandies Rose marks the Bering Sea crab fleet’s deadliest accident since the 2017 capsizing of the F/V Destination, in which all six crew members died.