Tug 'Pal' and three crew meet a fiery fate in Lake Michigan off Oceana County

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Tug 'Pal' and three crew meet a fiery fate in Lake Michigan off Oceana County

Postby MoonEyes » Thu Jun 30, 2016 10:29 pm

Lookback: Tug 'Pal' and three crew meet a fiery fate in Lake Michigan off Oceana County


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Dave LeMieux | Muskegon Chronicle By Dave LeMieux | Muskegon Chronicle
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on May 07, 2012 at 7:26 AM

OCEANA COUNTY, MI -- In the eight days after the “Pal" vanished into a midmorning fog, Lake Michigan begrudgingly gave up very few clues to its tragic disappearance on Saturday, May 3, 1947.

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Its 95-horsepower gasoline engine chugging contentedly, the “Pal” was last seen headed out into Lake Michigan at 10 a.m. on Saturday to retrieve nets the crew had set the day before some 25 miles offshore.

Crews from the two-dozen or so tugs that made up the tight-knit, little fishing community knew well the risks of hauling net on the big lake: A freighter might have run down the “Pal” in the thick fog or, has had happened to the tug “Mistress” exactly five years before to the very day, a fire could have claimed it.

But Dan Loncar and his crew, Clyde Smith and Merrill Ginther, were lake veterans who had weathered the countless hazards of their dangerous profession many times before.

The anxious wait for her husband’s safe return was an all too familiar vigil for Dan Loncar’s wife. Even two days after the tug failed to return, she told The Chronicle, “She had faith in the tug’s rugged skipper, her husband.”

The “Pal” had been several hours late due to engine problems just a few weeks earlier and, on several previous occasions, Loncar “had resourcefully met emergencies, sometimes even whittling out repair parts from wood to overcome a sudden breakdown.”


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But, by sundown on Monday, with the fleet pinned in Pentwater’s harbor by a freshening nor’wester that was piling whitewater onto the channel pier heads, hope the tug was simply adrift had grown threadbare.

Bits of charred wood among the flotsam pushed ashore by the combers on Monday carried grim hints of the “Pal’s” awful fate.

On Tuesday, the excruciating wait for the tug’s return became a search for the crew’s bodies.

On Thursday, after finding a portion of the tug’s charred cabin drifting seven miles south of Pentwater, Chief David McCormick, head of the Pentwater Coast Guard Station, said he believed that it was a fire, not an explosion, which doomed the “Pal.”

The disaster had happened before the “Pal” reached the fishing grounds, McCormick said. Eight days after they were set, the “Pal’s” nets were still waiting for Loncar, Smith and Ginther to retrieve them. On Saturday, May 10, 1947, Cecil Stover and James Stewart hauled the “Pal’s” six boxes of chub nets and four lake trout sets aboard their tug, the “Peggy Marie.”

As Stover and Stewart bent to their work, 60 miles down the coast to the south, the 10-year-old son of Grand Rapids attorney Thomas G. Roach set out on a morning beachcombing expedition along Volgesang’s beach, two miles south of Grand Haven. About 10 a.m., he discovered Clyde Smith’s body. Smith, who had suffered burns, was wearing a life jacket. His wristwatch had stopped at 4:15 p.m.

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The Coast Guard redoubled its efforts and began a new, but fruitless, lakewide search.

It would be another 41 years before the big lake claimed another vessel in Oceana County waters: the tug “Comanche,” which foundered on Dec. 11, 1985.

In all, 50 vessels have gone down off the Oceana County coast since 1834.

This week 65 years ago…

What little hope friends and family had for the missing crew of the fish tug “Pal” was dashed when reports reached Pentwater that wreckage had washed ashore the day before.

The Chronicle said on May 6, 1947:

SEARCH FOR BODIES OF THREE WHO DIED IN LAKE BLAST

PENTWATER – The icy waters of Lake Michigan sealed the fate of the fishing tug “Pal” and its three crewmembers as the search continued today for bodies of the fishermen lost aboard the 40-foot fishing tug.

The loss of the tug with three men aboard is the worst marine disaster in Pentwater for many decades. Not since the lumbering days have as many men been lost at sea from this port.

Bits of charred wreckage have been washing ashore near Juniper Beach and apparently the tug burned and sank somewhere in that vicinity.

Chief Boatswain Mate David McCormick, in charge of the Pentwater Coast Guard Station, and Seaman First Class Edward Mullin, assigned to the Pentwater station, were patrolling the beach between Little Point Sauble and Juniper Beach this morning in an effort to locate the bodies of Daniel Loncar, Clyde Smith and Merrill Ginther, the three men aboard Mr. Loncar’s tug when it left port Saturday morning.

John Wolf, Hart fisherman, journeyed the entire 12 miles from Little Point Sauble to Pentwater in an outboard motorboat, combing the beach for traces of wreckage. He reported finding many small pieces of charred wood in the vicinity of the place where the Novadoc sank in the big Armistice Day storm of 1940.

Richard Herline, retired Pentwater coast guardsman, was the first to find traces of the missing tug: a life preserver and several pieces of planking form the framework.

The life preserver was later positively identified as being part of the equipment of the “Pal” by Frank Larsen, former owner.

The possibility of early recovery of the bodies hinged largely on whether or not the men were able to get on life preservers after the blast that apparently destroyed their tug. If that was the case the bodies then would quickly wash ashore. If the men went down with the tug, however, it may be months before their bodies will be recovered.

Sorrow prevailed in this small Oceana County seaport this morning as friends and relatives were consoling the stricken families. Mrs. Loncar, wife of the tug’s captain, was in seclusion at her home near the fishing docks with her two small sons, George, 5, and Robert, 3 years old.

Mr. Loncar, 36 years old, had piloted the tug since purchasing the fishing business of Frank Larsen in October, 1944. Sailing the lakes since he was 12 years old, Mr. Loncar operated a fishing business out of Ludington for 8 years, then worked in a Detroit war plant for 3 years before buying the “Pal.”

Mr. Smith, 45 years old, who operated a farm in Golden Township for many years, joined the tug’s crew last September and Mr. Ginther, 49, former Ludington resident and wounded World War I veteran, had been employed on the boat for 2 years. Mr. Ginther lived alone near the Loncar home near the fishing docks.

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