October 25, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 43

Fisherman lost, presumed drowned

U.S. Coast Guard investigators were due in Haines late this week to get details of an accident that apparently claimed the life of local commercial fisherman Ted Lynch, 61.

Lynch was presumed drowned after falling off his gillnet boat Darlin Michele while shrimp fishing Tuesday afternoon near Skagway. Terrance Moniz, Lynch’s brother-in-law, was on the boat and told state troopers he tried to bring Lynch aboard using a pulling block and line, but lost sight of Lynch after the third attempt.

“(Moniz) tried to pull him up with the block, but something broke and everything came apart,” said state trooper Ken VanSpronsen of Haines. A life vest Lynch apparently was wearing at the time “was in pieces when I saw it,” VanSpronsen said.

Coast Guard Lt. Patrick Drayer, who will be heading the agency’s investigation, said information from Moniz indicates there may have been drinking aboard the vessel and Drayer requested troopers inform Moniz he needed to take an alcohol test.

On Wednesday, Drayer said alcohol “is not a contributing factor at this point” in the investigation. The legal limit for commercial boat operators, which includes skippers and deckhands, is .04 blood alcohol content, Drayer said.

According to VanSpronsen, the Darlin Michele left Haines 9 a.m. to check commercial shrimp pots. Lynch was behind the vessel’s house, picking gear when he went overboard at about 12:30 p.m.

It wasn’t clear if Lynch slipped or the boat was hit broadside by a wave, the trooper said. Moniz threw a tethered life ring to Lynch and was able to get him near the boat, but unable to bring him aboard, VanSpronsen said.

The gunwales of the 48-foot Darlin Michele, an adapted Navy vessel, are about seven feet off the waterline, he said. There are recessed steps down the vessel’s stern, but Moniz was attempting to hoist Lynch from the side of the boat, VanSpronsen said.

Winds were variable in Lynn Canal at the time of the accident. Seas were four to five feet in Haines, but about half that near Skagway, he said. “There were times it was fairly calm and times you couldn’t stand outside with the gusts.”

Moniz dialed 911 and radioed that Lynch was overboard at 12:45 p.m. A Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter and C-130 plane were dispatched to the scene and about a half-dozen boats from Haines and Skagway, including the tugboat Le Cheval Rouge, assisted in search and rescue efforts. A Wings of Alaska plane and Temsco helicopter also participated. The search was suspended at nightfall.

VanSpronsen described Moniz as a deckhand who said he had previously worked in the Bering Sea.

The accident occurred as the boat was fishing near the west wall of Taiya Inlet, about one-quarter mile north of Burro Creek, in water about 180 feet deep. Lynch was wearing a blue-gray jacket and green raingear coveralls.

The Coast Guard’s Drayer said the agency’s investigation would review safety aspects of the accident and would not be looking to place blame. Typical questions involve flotation devices and whether they were worn properly.

Investigations are aimed at preventing future accidents, Drayer said.

Fishermen this week described Lynch as a longtime Southeast fisherman who held multiple permits and was familiar with winter fishing. He also has fished in the Bering Sea and Hawaii.