Search suspended for missing mariner
Longtime Nome fisherman Anthony Shelp, 56, is still missing after he reportedly fell overboard from his boat on Friday morning, October 26.
According to an Alaska State Trooper dispatch, the AST Nome post received a report of man overboard at 8:49 a.m. Shelp was on the fishing vessel Juda Lee with his family- his girlfriend, their five-year-old daughter and another male relative– when Shelp fell overboard.
The circumstances that led to the fall are unknown.
According to the AST dispatch, the family members tried to pull him back into the boat but were unable to do so. The Juda Lee is a 32-ft fishing vessel and was reportedly between four and ten miles west of Nome when the incident happened.
AST Sgt. Aileen Witrosky said the troopers were notified that a man had fallen overboard and requested Nome Search and Rescue assistance as well as help from the U.S. Coast Guard to deploy a helicopter for an aerial search.
Nome Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jim West Jr. said he learned of the trooper request when he received a text message from Trooper Honie Culley if Nome SAR got toned out.
He said, no, they were not. According to West, the dispatcher failed to notify SAR, resulting in the delay of the response.
Once West learned of the man overboard situation, he sprung into action. “We launched the Guardian and NVFD volunteers with boats launched them as well,” he said.
According to West, NVFD volunteers Johnny Bahnke III and Chugie Farley launched their boats, a Phoenix Marine boat that already was in the water and another citizen volunteer with his boat also assisted in the search. West dispatched two searchers to board a Bering Air helicopter for an aerial search and Alaska Wildlife Trooper Maggie Stang assisted with a fixed wing aircraft.
According to the Coast Guard, they received the initial report at about 10:45 a.m. from Alaska State Troopers that the man fell overboard, and that the Juda Lee crew’s attempts to recover him were not successful.
The Coast Guard launched an Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew out of Kotzebue to search for Shelp, who reportedly did not wear a lifejacket or any sort of personal floating device. Several Coast Guard helicopter crews arrived on scene at about 1:50 p.m. While weather conditions in the morning of Friday were calm, they turned worse in the afternoon. When the Coast Guard arrived there were 20 mph winds, 5-foot seas, an air temperature of 32°F and a water temperature of 43°F. “Cold water is completely unforgiving,” said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Seth Caron from the District 17 command center. “When a person goes into cold water with no life jacket, our chances of finding them alive are vastly diminished.”
West said that for rescue operations at sea, the window of opportunity to recover a person alive is 20 minutes to two hours. As the search on water and in the air went into the afternoon and evening, neither the boats nor the air searchers found any sign of Shelp. West said about 15 NVFD SAR volunteers, five Nome Volunteer Ambulance Department volunteers and five to six people who joined the search looked for Shelp.
The Juda Lee made it back to the Nome harbor under its own power.
West said the searchers had no real indication where the exact location was where Shelp fell into the water. The searcher expanded their search looking offshore at West Beach and also at East Beach.
Due to deteriorating weather conditions, the Coast Guard suspended its search at 7 p.m. Friday. Winds kicked up to blow at 30 mph and seas became rough. Coast Guard helicopter crews searched a total of approximately 41 square nautical miles over the course of more than five hours.
“Despite our best effort, we were not able to locate this man,” said USCG ‘s Seth Caron. “Most of us joined the Coast Guard to saves lives, without much thought about how it would feel on days we are not able to. We can’t imagine the pain the family and friends of this man must be experiencing.”
On Saturday, no search on the water took place due to rough seas. On Sunday, Sgt. Witrosky said, the trooper plane flew to conduct another aerial search, but found nothing. West said people continue to look for any signs of Shelp on the beaches. Sgt. Witrosky still considers it an active search effort and the investigation into the circumstances of the incident is ongoing.
According to Sgt. Witrosky, there were household items on board of the Juda Lee and the intent of the voyage was to move the family to Brevig Mission. According to the trooper dispatch, alcohol seems to have been a factor.