Skipper faulted in Oregon fishing disaster — (Myrtle Beach Online)

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Myrtle Beach Online

MATTHEW DALY

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Federal safety officials Tuesday faulted the skipper of a charter fishing vessel that sank off the Oregon coast in 2003, killing 11 people, saying he used poor judgment in deciding to take the boat out in hazardous conditions.

The report by the National Transportation Safety Board also criticized the captain of the Taki-Tooo for failing to ensure that everyone on board wore life jackets, and faulted the Coast Guard for failing to enforce federal regulations on the use of life jackets in hazardous conditions.

Eleven people, including veteran sea captain Doug Davis, were killed in the June 2003 accident near Tillamook Bay, in one of Oregon’s deadliest maritime tragedies. Of those killed, only one was wearing a life jacket; six of the eight people who survived were wearing life jackets, the report said.

The report said the condition of the Tillamook Bay channel and two aging jetties – which residents have long complained are unsafe – did not play a role in the accident.

The report also said that an antidepressant the 66-year-old Davis was taking to combat his insomnia was not a factor in the accident.

The report described Davis – who sold the boat two years before the accident but continued to operate it – as a veteran skipper who had crossed the sandbar at Tillamook Bay more than a thousand times.

Davis’s wife, Sharon, told investigators that her husband was in good health, feeling fine and looking forward to taking the boat out that day.

Ellen Engleman Conners, chairman-designate of the NTSB, said she found it incredible that Davis spent about 30 minutes deciding whether to cross the bar – given swelling seas with waves that topped 10 feet – but did “not spend 30 seconds doing the obvious: telling (passengers) to put their life jackets on. It doesn’t make sense.”

In fact, while six survivors were wearing life jackets when rescued, the investigation found that none of the 19 people on board was wearing a life vest until the boat began to sink. Most of those who were rescued were inside the 32-foot boat’s cabin and had grabbed flotation devices after the boat capsized, the report said.

One passenger who grabbed a life jacket was found dead in the cabin. It was not clear why that person, a 66-year-old man, was unable to escape, the report said.

Mark Rosenker, acting chairman of the NTSB, called the accident one that “clearly could have been prevented” if Davis had heeded Coast Guard warnings about rough seas and stayed in port.

Far fewer lives would have been lost if the 17 passengers and two crew members were wearing life jackets, Rosenker said.

The report said it was not clear whether Davis was trying to turn the boat around or had lost control when it was struck by a 15-foot wave and capsized.