Sole survivor of the Eagle III: 'I'd trade places with them if I could'
COOS BAY, Ore. - The crew of the Eagle III got a late start January 19, heading out around 10 or 10:30 a.m.
"Fished and worked all day," Captain Glenn Burkhow said. "Come to be dark and our generator wouldn't start."
Burkhow and his crew - Josh Paulus, Danny Matlock and Blaine Steinmetz - decided to head back in.
If they could repair the generator, they'd head back out. If it wasn't a straightforward fix, they'd call it a day.
They entered the mouth of Coos Bay in 30 mph winds and 10-foot waves.
Burkhow told the crew to keep an eye on the ocean.
"I told the guys to kind of keep an eye behind for anything unusual big," he said.
"Shortly after that, Blaine said, 'Here comes a big one.' And that would be the last time I'd hear or see those guys ever again."
Once the wave hit, the boat never stopped rolling.
"I bounced off the ceilings, the walls, the floor," he said. "I couldn't find my way out. That's all there was to it."
Burkhow said he tried to pull himself through a hole at the bottom of the boat.
"I heard a sound that will stick with me forever," he said, "and that was another breaker coming. It rolled me twice. I remember going down under the water, coming back up, sticking up at the bottom of the boat.
"I remember thinking: you got to swim," Burkhow said. "But at that time it didn't matter because here comes another wave, which picked me up and body slammed me into the jetty. And I dug in with my fingernails and my toenails and I'm hanging on because I know it's coming."
Burkhow said it's a miracle he wasn't knocked unconscious and didn't break any bones.
He managed to make his way along the jetty to shore.
"I get around to where there's tall grass and trees and thought, 'I'd sure like to lay down and rest," Burkhow said.
But Burkhow said he knew he had to keep moving.
He didn't have time to put on a survival suit, and the effects from the icy water were beginning to set in.
Burkhow walked 4 1/2 miles to the nearest home.
The residents drove him to the Coast Guard station, and he was treated for hypothermia.
The Coast Guard later found Steinmetz dead on the jetty. He was 52.
Paulus, 31, and Matlock, 37, both remain missing at sea.
The sole survivor of the Eagle III, Burkhow said he now has to live with the loss.
"It's going to be tough. It is really tough," he said. "One of them was my granddaughter's dad, and that's a real reminder of this tragedy."
Burkhow said the community's support has been overwhelming. The Charleston Fishing Families is putting on a 2-day fundraiser this weekend for the families of his crew.
"I wish I could bring them back," Burkhow said. "Shoot, I'd trade places with them if I could."
"Here I am," he said. "I don't know why or how, but here I am."