Fish Tug Searcher Sinks December, 1985

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Fish Tug Searcher Sinks December, 1985

Postby BigMesh » Sun Feb 26, 2017 7:17 pm

Rescuers Abandon Hunt For Fishermen
December 29, 1985|By Wes Smith.
From the article in the Chicago Tribune

The search for three fisherman lost in icy Lake Michigan was abandoned Saturday, but the hunt to learn why the steel-hulled fishing tug sank had just begun.

One of three crew members rescued, Gaetano Terranova, 55, of 2145 N. Central Ave., said Saturday from his hospital bed that he believed the boat, the Searcher, was ``mis-outfitted`` and ``too heavy`` because a steel beam had been welded to the hull four years ago by its owners to compensate for the vessel`s top-heaviness.

``I had fears of that boat,`` Terranova said. ``The boat was too low in the water, and the boat was taking on water. She was too heavy, much too heavy. They compensated too much.``

But Lawrence Schweig, owner of the Searcher and of the Five Lakes Seafood Co. of Chicago, said the boat had been engineered originally to allow for the beam. Over the last four years, he said, the vessel had survived ``much more severe weather`` than that encountered by the six fishermen Friday.

``There was nothing structurally wrong with the boat,`` Schweig said. ``I am at a loss as to why she sank. . . . It has to be human error someplace, the way it appears. But we don`t know what the problem was.``

Schweig described the Searcher as ``the Cadillac of fishing tugs.`` The 60-ton, 65-foot ship is enclosed ``like a steel box`` and built to last 100 years, he said.

``At first, I thought she might have been in ice and split a seam, but the captain was in the bilge and said she was dry,`` he said. The captain, Raymond Slupik Jr., 23, survived after being lifted from the lake by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter.

``After that, I don`t know what might have happened,`` Schweig said. ``I don`t know if they had a door open,`` which would have allowed waves to pour in. ``I am sure there will be a Coast Guard inquiry.``

The men presumed drowned were identified Saturday as Raymond Slupik Sr., 55, of Waukegan, on board as a guest of his son, the captain; Harold Goodman, 45, of Racine, a crew member; and Theodore Gawel, 62, of Chicago, a crew member.

The Coast Guard will begin studying the sinking Monday, a spokesman said. ``We don`t know anything about those theories now,`` he said.

The rescuers saw the three men who survived because one had taken flares from an emergency kit before abandoning the boat. Deck hand Randy Silvis, 30, of Zion, kept one flare and gave one to the captain, his brother-in-law.

``I got my flare lit and was waving it trying to get the captain`s attention when a wave went over me and put the damn thing out,`` he said. ``I was downright disgusted.

``But the captain lit his, and was able to keep it lit and attract the pilot`s attention.``

A Coast Guard helicopter scanned the area where the boat sank for the missing men for 1 1/2 hours Saturday morning with no success. The tug is believed to have gone down in 100 to 140 feet of water and was not visible to the searchers. The accident occurred at about 4:30 p.m. Friday 17 miles east of Meigs Field.

Coast Guard rescuers, alerted by MAYDAY radio calls from the captain, pulled the three survivors from the tossing 32-degree waters about 15 minutes after the men had abandoned the sinking boat.

The younger Slupik was released from Mercy Hospital and Medical Center Saturday. Silvis and Terranova, whose body temperature was 84 degrees when he was pulled from the water, were in fair condition Saturday in Michael Reese Medical Center.

All three suffered from hypothermia, but doctors said none are expected to suffer lingering effects.

Silvis, however, said he will never forget the sudden sinking that left three crew members dead and that tossed him into the icy 5-foot waves.

He said he believes the three who died were trapped inside the boat by rushing water and suction created by the sinking of the massive boat.

``There is no doubt in my mind they were trapped,`` he said. ``Once she went, she went quickly. They tried to get out the door, but were sucked back. I tried to swim away, but at first I was sucked back too. I ended up putting my foot on the pilot house and shoving myself away.

``I have been cold, but I have never been cold like that.``
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