OCEAN CITY — An Ocean City-based fishing crew spent a harrowing night offshore after breaking down last weekend, but the incident had a happy ending when a Coast Guard search plane spotted the vessel and sent help nearly 24 hours later.
Around 5:45 a.m. last Friday, Captain Chase Eberle and the crew of three on the 26-foot sportfishing boat “Duskey” left Chincoteague for the Norfolk Canyon on a late season yellowfin tuna trip. The “Duskey” arrived in the Norfolk Canyon a few hours later and already had a gaffer in the box in the first 15 minutes. After a successful morning of fishing, Eberle and the “Duskey” crew started to head back in around 2 p.m. when trouble struck.
The boat got about five miles outside the Norfolk Canyon when the vessel spun a hub on the propeller and became disabled. For several hours, Eberle and the “Duskey” crew continued to put out distress calls, but no help immediately came as the sun set and night settled in.
“We put out distress calls, but whether or not any of them were heard I don’t know personally,” he said. “We had a glassy night in the canyon and we couldn’t ask for a better night to be stuck in the canyon.”
However, the distress calls were not immediately answered, and Eberle and his crew spent the night well offshore in the canyon while still disabled. While the sea was glassy throughout the night, the weather took a decided turn for the worse in the morning with winds blowing 15-20 knots and four-to six-foot seas.
Around 8:30 a.m., the crew saw a plane flying to the south and fired two flares, but the plane banked away with no response. About two hours later at around 10:30 a.m., the crew saw the same plane heading north and flying due west of the disabled vessel and fired more flares, but again the plane veered away without recognizing the disabled vessel and giving the crew a sinking feeling they were not going to be spotted. Around noon, the plane appeared again and this time responded to the vessel’s distress signal.
“We saw the same plane heading south and it picked up our May Day distress call,” he said. “It banked due east and flew directly over and made contact. I can promise you the feeling of finally being seen is like no other.”
Eberle and the crew stayed in contact with the Coast Guard rescue plane, which had been launched early Saturday morning after family and friends reported the “Duskey” was overdue around 3:30 a.m. What Eberle and the crew did not know it that family members reported the vessel overdue and that it was known to be headed from Chincoteague to the Norfolk Canyon.
The Coast Guard issued an Urgent Marine Information broadcast and sent the Coast Guard Cutter “Cochito” from Portsmouth to begin a search at around 6 a.m. The “Cochito” is based in Portsmouth, but is often stationed in Ocean City during the summer months. The Coast Guard then launched the C-130 Hercules airplane, which is the plane that ultimately spotted the disabled “Duskey” about 50 miles east of Chincoteague near the Norfolk Canyon.
The Coast Guard plane located the “Duskey” crew around 11:30 a.m. and directed the cutter “Cochito” to the area. The “Cochito” arrived and began to tow the disabled fishing vessel in before passing the tow, along with the four survivors, to a 47-foot Coast Guard 47-foot motor lifeboat crew from Station Chincoteague. The crewmembers were all in good shape with plenty of food, water and emergency supplies on board.
“I had let multiple people know where I was heading and some of them called and reported me missing, which I could not be more grateful for,” said Eberle.
Coast Guard officials said the incident showed the importance of filing trip plans and having the proper equipment on board.
“Luckily, this case had a happy ending,” said Coast Guard Captain Christopher Keane. “Never underestimate the importance of filing a float plan and having a VHF-FM marine radio with a backup power supply on board, especially if you are headed offshore.”