When Capt. Craig Lloyd of the Coast Guard cutter Munro first heard the mayday call from the sinking ship 100 miles away in the early hours of Sunday morning, he directed his crew to get to the scene fast. Forty-seven lives were at stake on the foundering fishing boat. The water was 35 degrees. Seas were 20 feet. Snow squalls wailed around them. The wind chill factor made the air temperature minus 24 degrees.
As details became available Monday about the sinking of the 203-foot Seattle-based Alaska Ranger as it was on its way to mackerel fishing grounds in the Bering Sea of Alaska, what emerged was a story of a harrowing rescue effort involving some of the worst conditions on the high seas.
When the first rescuers arrived by helicopter about three hours after the mayday call, they found a grim scene. They saw three strobe lights and figured those were the life rafts. As they got a little closer, there was a fourth light, a fifth, then a sixth, and the numbers kept growing. Then they did a quick big-picture scan and saw flashes over a mile-long stretch, with no sign of the vessel. Each light was a person, floating in the water and fighting for life.
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