One dead, two saved after fishing boat sinks in Nushagak Bay

A tender in the Nushagak District. Wednesday, June 30, 2021. (Stephanie Maltarich/KDLG)

A commercial fisherman has died after a fishing boat sank in the south end of Nushagak Bay on Thursday morning with three people on board.

Authorities on Friday identified the deceased as Lance Eric Norby, 45, of Arlington, Texas. He captained the F/V Pneuma. Norby’s next of kin has been notified.

An Alaska State Troopers report says they got a call around 5 a.m. Thursday morning that a commercial vessel was taking on water. Two wildlife troopers responded immediately. Before they got there, they heard reports that the three people on board were in the water.

The report says good Samaritans on the scene helped in the rescue. Among those was skipper Caleb Mikkelsen, who said his crew was getting ready for an opener when he got a call on the VHF radio from a friend saying there was a vessel in distress.

“We could hear that there were two boats and a skiff trying to help this vessel that was sinking out on those Snake River flats there,” he said.

The people at the scene said they still needed more help. So Mikkelsen piloted his boat, the F/V Fortress, about seven miles to the area.

“Pounded my boat through all the waves and stuff to get down there, and by the time I got there I realized the two boats were two deep tenders,” he said. “They draft about 10 or 15 feet, so they were practically useless. And then the skiff was a trooper skiff. And there were six- or eight-foot breaking curlers going on that bar.”

Mikkelsen said the troopers had one of the people in their skiff. By that time, the boat had fully submerged in breakers. So he and his crew started looking for the rest of the crew.

“You could barely see the skiff, and I could barely drive my boat in the breakers,” he said. “So we were driving around, I was just zigzagging, had all my crew on the very top flying bridge of my boat, scouting out. And saw a buoy light, went for that, and one of the guys had the buoy light, was holding it. So we pulled him up on the jet guard.”

They found Norby and conducted CPR and attempted other lifesaving efforts.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Nate Littlejohn said a Jayhawk helicopter arrived on scene.

“The Coast Guard lowered a rescue swimmer and determined that a third person was, in fact, deceased,” he said.

Littlejohn credited the good Samaritan vessels with providing aid and said it was a rough morning for everyone involved.

“It’s always difficult when we arrive on scene and find that it’s too late to save a life,” he said.

Littlejohn also thanked the good Samaritans on the F/V Fortress and the F/V Last Frontier.

Mikkelsen said that after the ordeal, he and his crew were in shock and talked about what had happened before they headed back out to fish for the rest of the day.

This story has been updated with the name of Lance Norby of Texas and with the name of the boat that sank, the F/V Pneuma.

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