The morning halibut season opened, no one ever expected a life would be lost. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. Mother nature can strike when you least expect and you should always be prepared. A man’s life was lost due to a combination of errors that could have been avoided, but some factors cannot be avoided.
Richard Seay and Michael Powers launched their boat at Cornet Bay and headed out to the Strait of Juan de Fuca while we were tied up to the floating dock waiting out the weather. At 4:45am, a rogue wave took over their entire boat and they called out a May Day on the radio as their boat began to sink. A fishing boat off their bow turned back because the waves were so big, but they called 911 at 4:57am to report the boat in front of them was in distress. They said they saw a swell measuring 12 feet break over Seay and Power’s boat, that the running lights went under water and they could no longer see the boat anymore. Sunrise was at 5:49am on May 2nd and with how dark the skies were when the boat capsized, there would be no way to see much in the Northwest Pass nor which direction the two fisherman and their boat went. Michael and Richard had debris floating all around them as they began fighting for their lives.
It took 60 seconds to sink the 23 foot Duckworth boat. Michael saw no helicopter or rescue boat come for him and his cousin. Since we were in the Northwest Pass and we couldn’t see any debris, this tells me that Michael and Richard must have drifted south towards Smith Island. While we attempted the 6 to 8 foot swells, so did the emergency responders. We turned back for the very same reason the emergency responders did, because the waters were too rough and the swells were too big.
Richard Seay went into shock immediately and only lasted 30 minutes in the water. Michael Powers held his cousin and performed CPR, but he was already gone. The two cousins drifted towards Joseph Whidbey State Park. Michael floated and tried to swim to shore until 11am, but his body quit working. This was the last thing he remembered. About two miles from shore, 4 fisherman jumped in the water and rescued Michael Powers who was unresponsive. The fisherman took him to the beach where he was transported to Fort Nugent Park then flown by helicopter to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
After an hour of searching for Richard Seay’s body, the search was suspended. One half hour later, the Coast Guard helicopter spotted a body in the water. East Jefferson Fire took Richard’s body back to Cornet Bay where the coroner pronounced him dead. Richard Seay was not wearing a life jacket and Michael Powers was wearing a child’s life jacket. If emergency responders could have endured the rough water and swells, or if the Coast Guard helicopter could have began their search at 4:57am, Michael Powers believes Richard Seay’s life could have been saved.
It’s so devastating to hear and learn about this tragedy. When the winds and swells are so powerful, it’s best to wait it out. Tackling the seas in the dark is another element to factor in. And making sure there are enough life jackets for each person aboard your boat has to be the most important. My heart goes out to Richard and Michael, as well as Richard’s family and friends. May he rest in paradise, catching unlimited halibut.