Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS



CNN Presents: Mystery of the Arctic Rose

Aired March 31, 2002 - 23:00   ET


LT. CMDR. JAMES B. ROBERTSON, U.S. COAST GUARD: Things happen quickly in the water, and the Alaskan waters are very unforgiving, and one mistake can be tragic.

AARON BROWN, HOST: In an industry that routinely averages 70 deaths per year, the loss of the Arctic Rose and all 15 of her crew represents the unthinkable. It is the worst commercial fishing disaster in modern history.

CAPT. RONALD J. MORRIS, U.S. COAST GUARD: Well, why would it have happened so quickly that they couldn't have made a radio call? That's the key.

LT. CMDR. TODD SCHMIDT, U.S. COAST GUARD: This was, by far, the worst SER case that I have been on in my 12 years of Coast Guard history.

ROBERTSON: It's quite possible that we will never know all the secrets as to what happened that night, and why the Arctic really sank.

BROWN: Welcome to CNN Presents. I'm Aaron Brown.

She was known as the Arctic Rose, and when she set sail for the frigid and fertile waters off the Alaskan Coast last January, her crew had one thing on its mind: a big catch. But as anyone who makes their living off commercial fishing will tell you, the sea has no generosity and no compassion. But even the ocean's unforgiving history couldn't have prepared the 15 men aboard the Arctic Rose for what lay ahead as they churned into the Bering Sea.

It was nearly one year ago today, the early morning hours of April 2, that the Arctic Rose vanished, almost without a trace. Now CNN Presents the Mystery of the Arctic Rose, reported by Frank Buckley.

BROWN: It is any day in the Bering Sea: commercial fishermen continuing a tradition whose beginnings are as old as man itself, encountering the same dangers that have confronted countless generations.

And the Bering Sea, with its unpredictable weather and remote location, may be the riskiest fishing of all. FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: These are the richest fishing grounds in the world, but they are also among the most unforgiving. The weather can change very suddenly here, and a person who falls into these waters has only minutes to live.

CMDR. CRAIG GILBERT, U.S. COAST GUARD: It's a dangerous place, and the fishermen up here are expert mariners. And still, tragedy occurs.

ROBERTSON: Commercial fishermen are going out to sea. They know, going out, that they're facing a lot of risks, and they know that a certain number of their friends and cousins may not return.

PATRICK WAGGS, FISHING BOAT CAPTAIN: It's just sad to see fellow fishermen get into predicaments that cost them their lives, and loss of vessels.

BUCKLEY: But even in an industry, and in an area, that is witness to all manner of tragedies, the story of the Arctic Rose is unique. With 15 men aboard, it is the worst U.S. commercial fishing disaster in half a century.

At the helm, a veteran seamen. Captain Dave Rundall had 16 years of experience at sea.

DAVID RUNDALL, DAVE RUNDALL'S FATHER: There was hardly any situation that he hadn't been through, and I think he understood all the limits of what his boat could do, what the people could do.

BUCKLEY: Many of the other crew members were far less experienced. They ranged in age from 20 to 54. Like many of his crewmates, it was Nathan Miller's first job on a commercial fishing boat. He was one of the last crew members to leave the Arctic Rose before the disaster.

NATHAN MILLER, FORMER ARCTIC ROSE CREW MEMBER: I was very interested in finding out what my limits were, finding out how far I could push myself, and maybe a rite of passage.

BUCKLEY: Vietnam veteran and former U.S. Navy Senior Chief Kenneth Kivlin was the oldest of the crew: a 54-year-old single father who had raised his son alone, he was the crew's cook.

JOHN KIVLIN, KENNETH KIVLIN'S SON: He was just a very easy-going free spirit. He raised me since I was 2, and had a hard time doing that, as any career Navy person would. But he decided he wanted to do what he loved to do, which was to cook. And he always used to cook for the family members on special occasions when we got together.

BUCKLEY: Jeff Meincke was the youngest crew member. He was 20. While at sea, Jeff wrote numerous letters to his girlfriend. The notes now offer a glimpse into life onboard the boat.

JESSICA HERMSEN, JEFF MEINCKE'S GIRLFRIEND: It says, "Hi, honey. The weather's been pretty nasty. Last night we were in 30-foot swells with 40-knot winds. Pretty lousy. I had to help pull a crab pot out of the net, but such because of the weather, we had to put on our life jackets just to go out on the deck. Don't worry; I'm being careful. The last thing I want to do is die before I get to see you again. Farewell. Good-bye for now, my little princess. Love, Jeff, your lonely fisherman."

BUCKLEY: At Seattle Harbor, family members would, unknowingly, say their final good-byes, the Arctic Rose now bound for the Bering and disaster.

It happened in the dead of night, 10 p.m. April 1st, 2001. The Arctic Rose was at work 200 miles from the nearest port. The 92-foot fishing trawler radioed her sister ship, the Alaskan Rose, fishing just a few miles away.

MORRIS: The captain on the vessel, the Arctic Rose, had mentioned something about the sump pumps and that they'd made some repairs to those. I think he was a little upset about things, but everything was fixed and it was working fine.

BUCKLEY: What the captain didn't know was that the Arctic Rose was just hours away from disaster.

ROBERTSON: At 3:30 in the morning, April 2, the Coast Guard received the first eeper signal from the satellites that are orbiting the Earth.

BUCKLEY: The eeper, the device that automatically flashes a distress call, signaling a satellite when a vessel goes down.

MORRIS: So then they started their communication attempts with the vessel at sea, using the radios, sending e-mails, but there was no call-backs and they never heard from the vessel.

BUCKLEY: A Coast Guard search and rescue team scrambled to the scene, but it would be hours before it arrived.

SCHMIDT: It took us about three hours to get on the scene, due to sometimes 100-knot head winds

BUCKLEY: As the C-130 approached, it made radio contact with the first mate steering the Alaskan Rose, the nearby sister ship of the Arctic Rose.

ROBERTSON: Mr. Nelson was the mate, and he was on watch for all night and received the first contact from the C-130 that there was problems. He turned the vessel around, awoke the captain, and told him that the Arctic Rose was in trouble.

BUCKLEY: With little information to go on, the Coast Guard was faced with the daunting task of finding a 92-foot boat in a sea that was roughly three times the size of the state of Texas.

SCHMIDT: We only had a 4-6 eeper position. We had no other information to go on where this vessel might be. The Alaskan Rose skipper came on the radio. He was very upbeat. When he reported that there was debris, I heard a significant change in his tone. He reported that he has located a couple bats, some floating garbage, and a floating crate. We could now pinpoint a location. Now we had an accident.

BUCKLEY: Yet in the near-freezing water temperature, there is virtually no chance for survival, unless crew members don survival suits or make it to life rafts.

MORRIS: The survivability in that cold water, where the temperatures are in the 30's: minutes. When you get a survival suit on and you have clothes, and you're in a survival suit at least dry, and you enter the water, your survivability increases dramatically. But it's still not days; you're still looking at hours. Maybe 24 or 36 hours.

BUCKLEY: This is a photo of what crew members saw next.

SCHMIDT: The skipper notified us via the radio that they had located an individual in a survival suit. They were trying to rescue him, but the sea state was very difficult to deal with. We informed them to try to rescue as best they can, but do not put any of their crew members in danger. I did not want one of their crew members going overboard and having to look for them, also.

BUCKLEY: The man in the survival suit, Dave Rundall, the skipper of the Arctic Rose. On board the sister ship, first mate John Nelson made a dramatic decision. He donned an immersion suit and jumped into the icy seas, hoping to save a fellow fisherman.


BUCKLEY: On the morning of April 2, a struggle was underway to save the life of Arctic Rose captain Dave Rundall, found floating in a survival suit in the frigid waters of the Bering Sea.

On the Alaskan Rose, First Mate John Nelson risked his own life to pull Rundall aboard.

ROBERTSON: He swam to the end of his line and still could not reach the captain. At that point, he unhooked himself from his safety harness and swam out to Captain Rundall and recovered him.

SCHMIDT: He hadn't gotten fully into the survival suit. He was completely wet in that survival suit. That added some clues to the puzzle as to the circumstances under which they sank. More than likely, they sank very quickly without much notice.

ROBERTSON: Mr. Nelson went to extraordinary measure to recover Captain Rundall, and then conducted CPR for at least an hour before the flight surgeon told him to cease operation.

LT. CMDR. DANIEL PIKE, U.S. COAST GUARD: You have to have optimism on this, and unfortunately, when they did recover the captain's body, but he was in a survival suit, that was enough to keep everybody focused on the fact that, hopefully the crew's all right and maybe they're in a life raft and are just downwind of this individual.

BUCKLEY: Some crewmen believed they saw two other bodies in the water, but they sank before they could be recovered.

SCHMIDT: And shortly after that, we started spotting other survival suits in the water. Some were rolled up, some were fully deployed but no one in them. On one of those passes, is when we located the life raft.

PIKE: With all those sets of eyes, once again, looking out, I just happened to pick up the flash of orange and looked and it stunned me. And you want to talk about elation. And there's nothing, nothing better on a SER case than to find a life raft. And so, I tried to spit it out. I got tongue-tied for a whole second, and just, "Life raft. Ten o'clock."

BUCKLEY: But there was no one inside the raft. It may have deployed automatically. After three days of searching, there was no further sign of the remaining 14 crew mates. For the families of the Arctic Rose crew, it was the worst possible news.

RUNDALL: I woke up and just a terrible sense of doom and foreboding. And the last thing I saw was, I suddenly realized there was a glossy surface, and it broke up, and things were disappearing below that surface. And I didn't -- I didn't put it together until at 3 that afternoon, my daughter-in-law called and said, "Did you get a call yet?" And she said, "The boat went down." And then I realized why I was seeing this water. Some kind of connection there.

KATHY MEINCKE, JEFF MEINCKE'S MOTHER: He had a zest for life, and he wasn't worried about dying. He was worried about living, you know. He wanted to live and I had told him what I felt, and then told him that I'd support him. But I worried about him every day he was gone.

ROBERTSON: The Arctic Rose is the worst fishing disaster in modern history, where you would have 15 men dying on one fishing vessel casualty. Also, this case is unusual because the vessel sank, apparently, very suddenly. There was no time for the crew to get off any mayday, get into the life raft or don exposure suits to get into the water for any type of a rescue. And what happens so suddenly that is such a catastrophic event that nobody could escape?

BUCKLEY: Coast Guard officials decided the incident required its highest level of inquiry. So, two months after the Arctic Rose went down, the Coast Guard convened a rare Marine Board of Investigation in this Seattle auditorium to try to determine what went wrong.

The board hears from witnesses over the course of several weeks, and then it embarks upon an extraordinary course of action. It will send an ROV, a remote-operated vehicle, to the depths of the Bering to find the Arctic Rose, to find out why it sank.

ROBERTSON: The Coast Guard does not go out to search for sunken vessels, so it's a ground-breaking event for us to have the opportunity to go out and get the answers and determine the cause.

BUCKLEY: It takes two days and nights to reach the last known position of the Arctic Rose. They hope sonar equipment will locate the vessel.

CAPT. RONALD J. MORRIS, CHAIRMAN, MARINE BOARD OF INVESTIGATION: Quite a lot of anticipation, people getting things ready to go, and so we're very anxious to get it done and actually start the search.

SKIPPER: Could you please give me a fix there on the boat, please?

BUCKLEY: Two hours in the sonar search for the Arctic Rose, a hopeful sign: what appears to be a vessel, sitting some 400 feet below sea level.

RICHARD DENTZMAN, SONAR OPERATOR: Right near an area where the Arctic Rose's sister ship, the Alaskan Rose, said she spotted a big oil slick and debris field, we got a hit on a hard target. We did some measurements on it, and it came out to be about 32 meters, almost the exact dimensions of the Arctic Rose.

BUCKLEY: Soon, a camera aboard the ROV will send a live video signal to the Ocean Explorer that may confirm that this is where the Arctic Rose ended its journey.

MORRIS: Right here, we've got what looks like the left side on the vessel.


MORRIS: We're gathered together today to remember the crew members of the fishing vessel Arctic Rose: Sean Bourchard, Aaron Broderick, Jimmie Conrad, Kerry Egan, Edward Haynes, G.W. Kandris, Kenneth Kivlin, Jeff Meincke, Angel Mendez, James Mills, Mike Olney, Dave Rundall. Let's also remember their family and friends who grieve for their loss.

ROBERTSON: That morning we held a brief ceremony, a remembrance ceremony. We read several passages from the Bible and the Coast Guard, the Marine Board laid a wreath, commemorating the 15 men that perished with the vessel.

MORRIS: We pray that the memory of the crew of the Arctic Rose be in our hearts and minds, and guide and protect all who work and travel on the seas and waterways here in Alaska.

HERMSEN: "Dear Princess, I was given the fun job of breaking the ice on the wheelhouse. There was about three inches of ice, and no one else would go up there in this kind of weather. We just slide across the roof. I almost fell off the boat, but I grabbed a rope before I went all the way over. But don't worry; we weren't going very fast and they could have picked me up quickly. The weather isn't that bad. It's just bad enough where we can't set our net. Well, anyway, there's nothing going on out here on this savage rose. Love, Jeff."

BUCKLEY: The Arctic Rose faced freezing weather and sometimes brutal seas in the Bering, but it wasn't designed for duty here. The story of the Arctic Rose begins in Biloxi, Mississippi. That's where the vessel was designed and built to be a Gulf Coast shrimper. Years later, it would be converted, and then sold to this company: Arctic Sole Seafoods of Seattle, Washington, for use in the Bering Sea.

While such a conversion is not unusual, it raised questions the Coast Guard hoped to answer, among them: could such a vessel, originally designed for the calmer waters of the Gulf withstand the rigors of the Bering?

One man they hoped could help them, the owner of the Arctic Rose. He lost not only the boat and its crew but also his own brother, the engineer aboard the vessel.

DAVE OLNEY: I welcome and I'm grateful for the opportunity to speak publicly for the first time about the loss of the Arctic Rose and her crew. They were quality men, all of them. Every one of them touched me in ways I will always remember. My friends and crew members of the Arctic Rose will never be forgotten and always live in my heart. Thank you.

DOUG FRYER, DAVE OLNEY'S ATTORNEY: Every witness who was testifying said that Dave Olney is a very careful operator. His crews have uniformly testified that if they asked him for money for repairs or safety equipment, it was never denied. He never compromised those issues.

BUCKLEY: This is actual footage of the Arctic Rose, shot by a former crew member in 2000. Coast Guard members hope Olney's testimony and their probe at the bottom of the Bering Sea will help them sift through the many theories about the Arctic Rose. One thing the investigators are examining: the processing plant.

JOHN VAN AMEHONGEN, REPORTER: This looks like a boat that was probably similar to the Arctic Rose when it was built. It's a typical Gulf shrimper style vessel that has been converted for dragging in the North Pacific. It looks like they have a little, maybe a little processing line here inside this shock here.

BUCKLEY: John Van Amehongen is a veteran reporter who covers the commercial fishing industry.

VAN AMEHONGEN: When I say I think it filled with water and sank, it sounds overly simplistic, but that's what happens to a lot of these things. And it didn't look like it caught fire. It didn't blow up. It didn't get hit by a meteor. Something happened that regularly, I think, happens to other boats that sink.

BUCKLEY: One theory about how the water may have entered the boat centers around sump pumps. These pumps are designed to drain water from the processing deck. According to one witness, they didn't always work properly.

MILLER: I've seen they would flood sometimes. So they routinely required service in that consistently removing the fish heads and trails and sand. I thought that that was probably dangerous, to add that much water in a boat. Something in me told me that that wasn't right.

ROBERTSON: If there's no slash bulkheads or anything to slow the water, it will rush to one side and creates a huge heeling (ph) force that will roll the boat to one side or the other, whichever way the water is. And it will exacerbate the natural roll of the vessel and could cause problems.

BUCKLEY: In the last radio call from the Arctic Rose, just hours before it sank, the captain complained about having had to repair the sump pumps that day. Could it have been something else, something as simple as a water-tight door, or a flapper, left open? Could that have allowed water in, slowing filling the boat while the crew slept?

VAN AMEHONGEN: There is some testimony that occasionally, inexperienced crewmen, people who hadn't been directed by the mate not to do it, would prop a flapper open on an overboard chute. And propping flappers open basically compromises the water-tight integrity.

BUCKLEY: In an area as notorious as the Bering Sea, weather could have been a factor.

FRYER: There is always the possibility of a rogue wave. There's an old saying among seamen that there's a wave waiting out there for everybody.

BUCKLEY: Another mystery: why the boat sank so quickly, with no distress call and no survivors.

VAN AMEHONGEN: I think often-times, your first inclination may not be to grab the radio and say, "Help, help! I think we're sinking." Your first inclination is, "Okay, What's wrong with this boat? Let's fix it." By the time you realize you can't fix it, and then you want to call for help, but the boat goes over on its ear, and the boat's oriented completely differently and more water's coming in, and the radio doesn't work anyway.

BUCKLEY: The Coast Guard hopes the Ocean Explorer mission will help turn theories into fact.

MORRIS: The water-tight nature of the vessel is one of the things we're interested in. We're really interested in anything we can see on the vessel that's going to help us, and kind of narrow down the different scenarios that we're going to have to consider for the cause of this tragedy.

BUCKLEY: And this is the moment the Coast Guard has been preparing for. On their third day at sea, they are now ready to send down the ROV.


HERMSEN: January 27, 2001: "Hi, Princess. Last night we had a big fill of sea sponges which filled our truck up. Tonight we got worse. Our net got caught around the outside of the reel and cracked the housing. We were outside in the snow, wind and waves and cold for five long hours trying to fix the damn thing. Our captain screwed up and made some bad decisions, and this sucked a lot. So it's been peachy this evening. Love, Jeff."

BUCKLEY: Crew members may not have always agreed with his decisions, but Dave Rundall was a licensed captain on a vessel that did not require a licensed skipper or engineer.

MORRIS: So, from the standpoint, he was -- It's above and beyond what the regulations require, so from that standpoint, he was an experienced mariner, a lot of time out there.

RUNDALL: He was safety conscious. His very first trip he took at 18, the man working next to him wouldn't wear a safety harness, and he was swept overboard. And ever since that day, he just made sure that anyone he worked with and has authority, they're going to be safe or they're not going to work for him. And I can just see his last thoughts, that's worse than his boat, losing all those people. That must have been horrible.

BUCKLEY: Just as most skippers do not have to be licensed, most majority of vessels in the U.S. commercial fishing fleet are not inspected. A 1999 Coast Guard report says commercial fishing vessel safety standards are lower than standards for other domestic commercial vessels, and lower than international standards for fishing vessels. Attempts to raise the standards have been vigorously opposed in the halls of Congress by advocates for the fishing industry.

Despite the dangers, the statistics, the deaths of so many fishermen, the industry's safety regulations remained virtually unchanged through the years. That is, until 1988, when the parents of one young man killed in the dangerous seas, parents versed in the ways of Washington, insisted upon change.

The young man, Peter Barry, a student at Yale University. His parents, Ambassador Robert Barry, and Peter's mother Peggy.

PEGGY BARRY: Peter was 19. He said he wanted to go and get to know Alaska. The state was an interesting place to be. He last called us on his 20th birthday.

BUCKLEY: What did he say on that last phone call?

PEGGY BARRY: That he wished I'd sent him some chocolate chip cookies for his birthday, and he wanted some dry socks.

ROBERT BARRY: He also said he was not very happy on the boat, that there were problems on the boat, that there were people on the boat who didn't think it was very safe, and he didn't want to stay on, but the captain said, "Well, if you don't stay on for this last trip, we're not going to pay you anything."

BUCKLEY: Peter stayed on the boat. Seventeen days later, his fears were realized. The boat sank. Peter's body was found floating off Kodiak Island. In their grief, his parents conducted their own investigation and were stunned to learn about the lack of safety standards in the industry.

PEGGY BARRY: We had no idea of the statistics, which are still shattering.

ROBERT BARRY: I used to be in the Navy, and I assumed their were requirements for fishing vessel safety. I'd assumed that they were inspected. I'd assumed that they were required to carry survival equipment. I was wrong.

BUCKLEY: What did you find back then about fishing vessel safety?

PEGGY BARRY: The problem is that the Coast Guard doesn't have the power to put anything into effect without going through Congress. If you stop and think about it, if the FAA had to go to Congress for every regulation. Stop and think for a minute what would happen to the FAA. And yet, there's nobody that can regulate vessels on the high seas.

BUCKLEY: The Barrys were so horrified they decided to take action.

PEGGY BARRY: I appreciate the opportunity to testify, and we're very grateful for the understanding and support which many of you and your colleagues have expressed.

CAPT. JOHN SARUBBI, U.S. COAST GUARD: The Barrys were very influential in lobbying Congress and basically creating the Fishing Vessels Safety Industry Act of 1988. That was really the first act that regulated fishing vessel safety.

BUCKLEY: The Barrys proposed mandatory licensing, inspection and safety equipment. Advocates for the fishing industry say the Barrys wanted too much.

REP. DON YOUNG (R), ALASKA: If the Barrys had had their way, there would be no fishing. It's that simple. And I understand their emotional tie-up with this. And I don't, you know, I never disrespected their belief. But they are totally dedicated to having no young person or anybody at sea if there's one little wave. And they want to make every -- And I keep stressing, there's no way that you can make this profession fail-safe.

BUCKLEY: Only one of the three recommendations survived. The law that eventually passed required that all vessels carry survival equipment on board.

ROBERT BARRY: So the resulting legislation is pretty good. It leaves something for people whose boats have gone down. It does not do enough for -- to make sure the boat does not go down.

PEGGY BARRY: We knew we weren't going to get everything we wanted, and we didn't. But we saved some lives, and that's -- that's the first step, certainly.

BUCKLEY: In the wake of the Vessel Safety Act, the numbers of fishing related deaths had decreased significantly, at least 20 percent, according to Coast Guard statistics.

But the Coast Guard still lacks the full authority to enforce the Vessel Safety Act. While the Coast Guard can inspect a vessel at sea for safety violations, it cannot board a commercial fishing vessel for an inspection while it is tied to the dock, unless the boat's operator volunteers for a dockside inspection.

SARUBBI: Of course, you know, it's a voluntary inspection. And the inspection should take about an hour and a half to two hours.

BUCKLEY: You don't have the authority that you need right now.

SARUBBI: No, we don't. Basically, fishing vessels are what we call uninspected vessels. They do not have to meet the same standards as other vessels in the industry, such as passenger vessels or harbor vessels. Really, we inspect only about seven percent of the 100,000 fishing vessels in the U.S. fleet, so we only see a small part of those vessels.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll take the one life raft here, and you go up and check the other life raft on the stern. How often do you test this?

FISHERMAN: Once a week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Weekly? Well, okay. That's good.

BUCKLEY: The Barrys continue to believe voluntary measures are not enough.

ROBERT BARRY: Our argument was that voluntary measure would never work because the people who are really the people who most require some kind of regulation are the people who would never do something voluntarily.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, congratulations, captain. You're under the program now. Here's your sticker. You can put that on the starboard side window.

SARUBBI: Fishermen have been very reluctant to be regulated over the years. They're a very fiercely independent group, and they've been able to lobby Congress to prevent this from achieving the authority that we need to regulate them.

BUCKLEY: Is it frustrating for the Coast Guard?

SARUBBI: Sometimes it is, yes.

YOUNG: Now I would say that 90 percent of the fishing industry doesn't need any more regulations. Their biggest concern is, every day we put new regulations into place, the less chance they can remain competitive. I try to follow the people it directly affects. My indication right now, there isn't a great deal of desire to have any more type of legislation. They believe enough's on board to make it safe.

ROBERT BARRY: People risk their lives to go out on search and rescue missions every day. Then, every fisherman, or at least some of the fishing vessels, also say, "I want the government off my back." Well, they sure don't want the search and rescue people to fold up their tents and not be out after them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most important thing is probably to keep looking straight up. Because ...

BUCKLEY: Even those who oppose further regulations acknowledge the danger of the job. In recent years, the number of fishermen participating in voluntary safety training programs has grown significantly.

YOUNG: I would make the survival class mandatory. One of the problems we have many times with survival gear is a reluctance to use it. It's very cumbersome, very uncomfortable, and they don't like to get involved with it. But it is required to be onboard the vessel. And so why not know how to use the survival gear?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are on a raft. You've got a buddy, a shipmate, who's trying to get to the raft, and he's not making it to you. You've got essentially three choices: throw this hook, put this through your arm and go get him, or attach yourself to the raft and go get him. And you get in the raft and make that a signal.

BUCKLEY: It isn't clear if additional regulations or standards would have made the difference aboard the Arctic Rose. For now, the focus remains on finding out why it went down.

The ROV is in place to provide the first views of the boat, now resting more than 400 feet below.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow, it's real silty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're getting there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't want to go too quick, here. We don't want to be running into net beam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got 428 feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will start to come forward now, less than five degrees aft. Looks real good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's about it? Okay. Beautiful. Okay.

ROBERTSON: We found the hull. The ROV came up and we saw the name of the vessel, and we knew that we had indeed found the wreck, and the hopes were very high.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No real confirmation now, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good job, you guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a line that's scary, right there.

BUCKLEY: Suddenly, the elation over finding the vessel and finally seeing it turns to concern.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got Riger (ph) now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you pull up some more? I just want to make sure and free this whole thing. I was into a bunch of lines. Another 50 feet.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I understand, but ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that me? Is that me? Not good, not good. Not good, not good, not good, not good. Steve?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you were pulling up, did it feel like you were actually caught on something?


ROBERTSON: And sometime during that initial search and survey, we believe that a line got stuck in one of the impellers, and we lost maneuverability, and the search went downhill from there. Unfortunately, the ROV became hopelessly entangled in lines

BUCKLEY: In a last-ditch effort to free the camera, the crew of the Ocean Explorer pulls at the cable, hoping the ROV will come loose from its tangled ropes.

MORRIS: All right. We'll do some review of the video and see what we got.

ROBERTSON: Everybody was very disappointed. We had certainly had high hopes of completing the mission. We thought we had lost any opportunity to finish what we had started.

MORRIS: Last thing we didn't want to do is lose our ROV.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I understand. It tangled in the hull and this is where it stayed, in the hull.


BUCKLEY: The ROV now rests alongside the Arctic Rose at a depth of 428 feet, at the floor of the Bering Sea. With no way to recover the camera, the mood onboard the Ocean Explorer is bleak. MORRIS: We just went under the vessel so from that point it was disappointing, but we got some information that we can look at. And essentially, this operation has come to a conclusion, and we're going to be heading home pretty soon.

BUCKLEY: The Coast Guard Marine Board has promised to show the footage to the victims' families before releasing it to the public. Some of the family members agreed to speak with CNN after viewing the underwater video for the first time.

JENNIFER TINGEY, JEFF MEINCKE'S SISTER: As morbid as it sounds, I almost wanted to see things that I didn't want to see so that I could put some closure.

MEINCKE: I felt like I was looking at his grave. It was just very painful. Something in the back of my mind keeps telling me he isn't gone because I haven't really seen it, and there I am.

LOU ANNE RUNDALL, DAVE RUNDALL'S MOTHER: I just keep thinking of the other sailors down there and I see a cold grave. I just -- My heart goes out to all of them.

DAVID RUNDALL: I didn't know what we were going to see, and that kind of scared me. And it was eerie seeing that name, because the last time I saw that name it was above the water, you know, and now it's not. I really hoped it would go on and at least be able to see the rest of the hull. I wish we could see the keel, too. Even if we never find out what happened, if we find out enough things that we know didn't happen, that guts tell us, you know, we can stop worrying about certain things.

BUCKLEY: Whatever their findings, the Coast Guard intends to issue a report on the Arctic Rose, in hopes it will help to prevent future disasters. That is an almost impossible task, given the number of accidents that occur each year, a level of activity that keeps Coast Guard search and rescue teams constantly busy.

Coast Guard rescuers have to be prepared to respond to an emergency 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And here in the waters off Alaska, they remain very busy. Last year alone, 817 search and rescue missions was credited for 220 lives saved.

LT. MARK HICKMAN, U.S. COAST GUARD: This is a voice distress crew. He monitors the two distress frequencies of the Coast Guard. The criticality of this position is of the utmost importance in that he may be the only one within four million square miles that hears a mayday call.

BUCKLEY: Each mayday signal triggers an intricate series of responses within the Coast Guard. Rescue plains, helicopters and Coast Guard cutter ships are all commanded from this station, the biggest communications center in all of Alaska.

The Coast Guard in Alaska regularly responds to maydays and responds to eeper drills daily. Practice drills like these are part of the Coast Guard's effort to maintain the highest level of readiness.

CAPT. EDWARD NELSON, U.S. COAST GUARD: The fleet is a Five Duffy (ph), made by Air Speciale. Now actually, they're used in front, not on the back of the cutters. They embark on the back of a high- endurance cutter, and go out into the Bering Sea, to patrol. And it extends the range for the cutters; they can roll up ahead, find where the fleet is, identify vessels and can be more efficient in what they're prosecuting. There also is a search and rescue platform for them, so they can get out and respond quickly and come back there to the cutter and can save lives. Then actually get them closer for balance.

This is an H2-130. This is what we do a lot of line researching and patrolling, to patrol the maritime boundary line. It has the endurance to stay out there for quite some time. The guys can drop pumps to them to dewater the boats if they need to. They can bring them life rafts and drop them from the pit, if that's required. If nothing else, they can provide top cover and keep monitoring the situation as the helicopters are coming out, or the cutters are coming out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Drop, drop, drop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tag's on board.

BUCKLEY: Coast Guard officials say saving fishermen is important, not only to those being rescued, but to a nation that demands their product.

GILBERT: It's a $2 billion a year market, which is an impact on the GNP of the nation, so we want to protect this resource. That's a very hard life. The fishermen earn everything they get. But if they get into trouble, we want to be there to help them. It's just inherent in the nature of most Coast Guard men; if someone's in trouble, you want to do what you can to help them.

BUCKLEY: Expectations that this Coast Guard mission to the Arctic Rose would reveal a definitive cause of its sinking vanished with the loss of the ROV.

But weeks later, a remarkable announcement from the Coast Guard. They would go again, undertaking an extraordinary second ROV expedition. Investigators are determined to find out, what caused the worst U.S. fishing vessel disaster in 50 years?

And perhaps their next trip to the bottom of the Bering will reveal enough to give investigators the answers they seek.


BUCKLEY: The second ROV mission reveals far more of the Arctic Rose than the first, but still no clear answers.

MORRIS: What found here the caldan (ph) was still onboard the vessel. So we know it was not engaged in fishing at the time. SARUBBI: There doesn't appear to be an apparent signs of damage, and there's no structural damage to the vessel. And it rules out that there was perhaps a collision involving the vessel. There's also an indication that a key water-tight door was opened in the aft fish processing area. Investigators are looking at whether or not that door being opened may have caused or contributed to the casualty.

MORRIS: Here you can see the door. This is where we think the knife-edge, or the water-tight door, is that goes from the trawl deck into the processing space. And you'll see a little bit of light, looks from the interior, right there. That would be on the inside of the door. Normally, if the door was closed, you would have Bering seawater.

BUCKLEY: Could water have insidiously seeped into the vessel through this opening as the crew slept? Or did a sudden wave of water wash into this opening?

ROBERTSON: It's quite possible that we will never know all the secrets as to what happened that night and why the Arctic Rose sank.

BUCKLEY: Even if the Arctic Rose never reveals her secrets, Coast Guard officials are hopeful that it will bring about a renewed focus on fishing vessel safety.

What do you need to save more lives?

SARUBBI: We need to be able to inspect fishing vessels at the dock on a mandatory basis, to be able to ensure that the appropriate safety equipment is onboard and ensure that the fishermen have undergone the proper training, and ensure that the vessels are structurally sound and maintain watertight integrity.

MORRIS: In a larger sense, a lot of our regulations are written in blood, because casualties happen.

BUCKLEY: The more than 500 local fishermen whose names grace the walls of the Fishermen's Memorial in Seattle Harbor are a sad reminder of the continuing dangers of the profession, a testament to all those lost at sea.

ROBERT BARRY: I hope that perhaps, as happened with our son, that the tragedy of the Arctic Rose will lead to a rethinking of how we can make this a safer industry.

TINGEY: I feel sorry for the Coast Guard, because they can actually put together these wonderful reports and can be just stuck in a file, and stuck in a drawer. And "Let's just forget this one. Let's wait and see what happens." And in the meanwhile, more lives are lost.

MILLER: A number of people just don't care about 15 anonymous guys, working class guys that died on a fishing boat.

YOUNG: I am one, thought, that does not believe that everything can be accomplished by an act of Congress. I would advise, again, those that have vessels, that they should be inspected voluntarily. I'd advise those people that work with these vessels, ask for the records of the vessel. But any law we pass I don't think will solve the problems of the very, very serious challenge of fishing in the Bering Sea.

MEINCKE: I don't believe my son should have died out there. I don't believe anybody else should have to lose their son. And I know that we can't regulate total safety, but I think we could do a lot better in this industry.

HERMSEN: "Dear Jessica, Well, I get to talk to you today. I hope so. We're headed to a new fishing grounds. On the way, we're going to stop at this tiny island called St. Paul. Anyway, I can't wait to get home. It will be summer or spring, whatever. That means warm weather. In the middle of nowhere, Love, Jeff."

BUCKLEY: The men of the Arctic Rose did not make it home. Despite their tragedy, and countless others before them, fishermen continue to fish these waters, drawn to a life and to the beauty of the sea.

HARALDUR GUDJONSSON, HARBOR MASTER, DUTCH HARBOR, ALASKA: The freedom. The views. The weather. The danger. The excitement. The catching of the fish. The coming into town with a full load.

MILLER: To be alone in the middle of the ocean, standing on deck while the rest of the boat's sleeping, and to see porpoises breaking the surface in the wake of the well (ph). I think there was a time when those impressions were valued, and they meant something to people, and I don't think any of those things are lost in any of the guys on the Arctic Rose, for whatever reason they served over there.

VAN AMEHONGEN: So when that line comes up, back end of the boat, and you toss it off to the guy at the box, and you say, "That's it, pal. We're out of here." So then it kind of goes back in the wake, and the mast is up there waiting for you. It's a great feeling.




Back to the top