Tragedy and Courage on the Bering Sea
Captain Dave Shoemaker’s gripping account of the fire that consumed his vessel on October 20, 2002 ranks among the great stories of tragedy and courage at sea. He was alone in the wheelhouse shortly after 1600 hours when one of his processing factory foremen burst into the wheelhouse and shouted that there was smoke in the fish factory.Within four minutes, the vessel would be rocked by the first of many explosions, a blast that hurled three members of the starboard fire team through the three-by-three-foot gear-setting hatch at the stern and 30 feet through the air, into the frigid waters of the Bering Sea. Crippled, without power or steerage in the fifteen-to-twenty foot seas and 30-knot winds, forced out of the wheelhouse by the intense fire that roared out of control below decks, without radio communications or any means of calling for help, with men in the water, with the port life raft consumed in flames and survival suits melting on the blistering deck plates, Shoemaker struggled to save his crew mates and himself. For his efforts in saving twenty three of the twenty six men and women aboard the Galaxy that day, Shoemaker would be awarded the U.S. Coast Guard’s Gold Lifesaving Medal, the agency’s highest civilian commendation for heroism.
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