Coast Guard rescues man from burning boat

NEAH BAY, Wash. - A Coast Guard crew rescued a man in heavy fog Sunday after his vessel burst into flames in the waters off Neah Bay.

Rescuers responded to the scene, about three miles north of Neah Bay, after Coast Guard watch standers in Seattle received a mayday call on VHF-FM channel 16 from the operator of the 25-foot pleasure craft Dawn Trader around 11 a.m.

The man reported that the vessel was on fire and he was donning a survival suit and abandoning ship into his life raft.

A Coast Guard helicopter crew from Port Angeles and rescue boat from Neah Bay were launched in response. Good Samaritans aboard a nearby vessel also offered to assist in the search.

Both Coast Guard crews arrived in the vicinity of the original distress call around 11:50 a.m. and began searching for the man, but heavy fog reduced visibility in the area to 100 feet.

The life raft's onboard GPS was malfunctioning and the man's flares did not fire correctly, further complicating the search.

The aircrew used the signal from the man's handheld marine radio and the direction-finding capabilities of the Dolphin helicopter to locate the life raft. They found the man clinging to the partially submerged raft and hoisted him into the chopper at noon.

The man was then flown to Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles in a reportedly severe hypothermic state.

Meanwhile, the Dawn Trader became engulfed in flames, split in half and sank with an unknown amount of fuel was aboard.

"The fact that the survivor had a raft and handheld radio most likely saved his life," said Lt. Cmdr. Edward Geraghty, the aircraft commander aboard the helicopter.

"The extensive search area and difficult conditions we encountered would have made locating him nearly impossible had we not been able to hone in on his radio transmission with the helicopter's direction finding system."