A commercial fishing skipper’s decision to make a mayday call moments before the boat sank probably saved the lives of his crew, but also may have cost him his own life.
Reports say that Captain Robert Royer suffered a fatal head injury while leaving the 75-foot Northern Belle earlier this month just before it foundered on the Gulf of Alaska 50 miles south of Montague Island.
Reportedly, the vessel’s Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon did not activate, so Royer, stayed in the wheelhouse to make a last-second mayday call and give the vessel’s position to the Coast Guard rather than immediately jumping ship with the others.
Royer and the crew, including Nicole Esau, 36, of Ketchikan, Alaska, and Todd Knivila, 48, of Seattle, spent more than three hours in the frigid water but were hoisted to safety by a Coast Guard helicopter. Royer was pronounced dead when he was picked up.
Although the cause of the sinking has not been determined, reports say the boat may have been overloaded. Apparently sensing problems, the skipper ordered Esau and Knivila to don survival suits – clumsy, head-to-toe outfits of bright orange. After the boat foundered, Royer finally put his own survival suit on, then re-entered the wheelhouse to make the mayday call.
While the crew launched a life raft, Royer jumped in, but tore his survival suit on a piece of metal, then got hit in the head by a heavy metal box.