Coast Guard rescues five near Coronation Island in Southeast



Crew members from a fishing vessel out of Sitka are safe today after their vessel was grounded near an island that is the site of a famous 1908 shipwreck.

The crew had on Sunday practiced an emergency drill that included the donning of their cold weather survival suits while in port in Sitka. The Masonic had also requested and received a commercial fishing vessel dockside examination prior to departing on this fishing trip. That proved timely.

When it was pitch black at 2:33 am near Cape Decision, south of Sitka and west of Wrangell, the crew sent a “Mayday, vessel Masonic going down” call, which was received by Coast Guard Sector Juneau Command Center watchstanders. A Sitka-based MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter was able to locate the crew and hoist them to safety.

The Coast Guard had not been able to contact the group by radio to determine their exact location but the rescuers found the life raft an hour later on the north side of Coronation Island, where they had tied their inflatable to the stern of their grounded vessel. The weather was showery, 45 degrees F, and winds were about four knots.

Watch the rescue from the Jayhawk helicopter perspective here as swimmers reach the men in the life raft:

“This case highlights how being prepared for an emergency situation is critical in the dangerous environment that we live and work in,” said Capt. Stephen White, Sector Juneau Commander. “I’m thankful that the crew of the Masonic was prepared. It probably saved their lives. In addition, the AIS position from the vessel was instrumental in our ability to quickly locate the survivors, as it took the ‘search’ out of ‘search and rescue.’”


In 1908, a cannery sailing ship, the Star of Bengal, sank at Coronation Island, which is characterized by rocky shores. The three-masted ship with 138 souls on board was loaded with 52,000 cases of canned salmon, empty steel oil drums, and was heading south from the Gulf of Alaska at the end of September.

The ship encountered heavy weather that became a gale, and the schooner broke apart in the surf. About 111 died, according to the Lost Shipwrecks website, with most of them being Chinese cannery workers who were below deck went the ship broke apart. The site is sometimes thought to be haunted.

[Read more about the Star of Bengal shipwreck at]


  1. From the article: “The Coast Guard had not been able to contact the group by radio to determine their exact location but the rescuers found the life raft an hour later”

    It sounds like the vessel did not register their VHS radio via the Digital Selective Calling (DSC) channel 16 emergency feature with their Maritime Mobile Service Identity Number (MMSI)

    All new VHF radios are designed to automatically and repeatedly digitally broadcast your distress call, including location and identification, to the Coast Guard as well as any other boats within radio range which can be up to 20 nautical miles with a simple button push. It also frees up the crew to don rescue gear, deploy and board life rafts, etc.

    This provides the Coast Guard with most critical item to affect rescue: the vessels precise latitude, longitude and boat identification.

    According to the U.S. Coast Guard, “approximately 90 percent of VHF DSC distress alerts received by the Coast Guard do not contain position information, and approximately 60 percent do not contain a registered identity.”

    To obtain and register your MMSI number, the Coast Guard recommends visiting the website and following the instructions.

  2. My grandfather was working on one of the little “tugs” towing the ship out to the ocean when the storm cased the ship to be pushed onto the beach in heavy seas.

    • Thank you for sharing that piece of history, Ken. We’d love to read more! -sd

  3. Ken, my Grandfather Lester Gore was the Ketchikan attorney who represented the captain of the tug that lost control of the Bay of Bengal. My mother still has the original transcripts from the trial. It’s a frightening story that still resonates in many southeast communities.

  4. Brian,

    I have read about the various trials and listen to an old tape of grandfather giving his account to a board of inquiry. My mother and father also told stories of the Star of Bengal to me years ago and the stories are very consistent with original writings at the time of the accident.

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