Coast Guard suspends search for person missing after explosion, fire at Whittier dock
The U.S Coast Guard has suspended a search for one person missing after an explosion and fire Sunday night at Delong Dock in Whittier.
A 49-year-old Cordova man went missing after the explosion of a fishing vessel, according to a Coast Guard release Monday night.
“The Coast Guard committed all available resources in conducting this search effort," said Cmdr. Mark Kuperman. "Our thoughts are with the family and friends who were impacted by this tragedy.”
In a release Monday afternoon, the Coast Guard stated the explosion occurred on a fixed barge and the fire spread to the pier and then to the Alaganik, a 99-foot commercial fishing vessel.
Initially, two people were said to be on board at the time of the explosion. According to the afternoon release, Whittier police confirmed one person reported missing was safe and on a different vessel. An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew searched by air Monday while crews from the Coast Guard Cutter Chandeleur and Coast Guard Auxiliary 336 conducted the search across approximately 12 square miles over the course of 17 hours.
Coast Guard spokesperson Manda Norcross said a propane tank that had been leaking exploded aboard the F/V Alaganik exploded causing the fire which spread to nearby buildings and vehicles. Norcross says the F/V Alaganik has sunk and there is a 1,000-yard safety zone around the area.
In the afternoon release, the Coast Guard stated the fishing vessel and barge sank in 85 feet of water at the pier with a potential maximum of 5,500 gallons of fuel oil on board. The fishing vessel owners have contracted Global Diving and Salvage for clean-up and salvage efforts.
According to Kelly Bender, who owns a charter business out of Whittier, the initial explosion was heard around 11:45 p.m. She says it appeared to happen on a boat tied to the dock used to offload fish. She said people in the area with boats and pumps were called to help extinguish the fire and as of 12:30 a.m.
Jason Lake responded to the fire after he got a phone call, "[...] We got done picking and ran right in, just threw the hose on it and [were] putting it out."
Monday there was a voluntary evacuation order for nearby Whittier Manor. Another witness Ellen Dilley evacuated, she said the tunnel was opened for those wanting to leave and for emergency crews coming into Whittier. The tunnel is the only road in and out of Whittier.
Shortly before 3 a.m. Whittier Police confirmed the fire was contained.
The City of Whittier said in a press release that the Anton Anderson Fire Response Team, Girdwood Fire Department and the Whittier Volunteer Fire Department responded to the fire. The State Fire Marshal will be in Whittier later Monday morning.
Delong Dock was closed for damage to be assessed and an investigation to be completed.
Coast Guard personnel have assumed lead in the National Safety Transportation Board investigation into the cause of the explosion.
Jennifer Summers and Dave Leval contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Alaganik. The safety zone was incorrectly reported as 100 yards; it is 1,000 yards.
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