Many reality shows are known for making situations more dramatic than they really are, but this is not the case with “Deadliest Catch”. The series showcases more than just the dangerousness of the crab fishing profession on the Bering Sea, but is also known for the scandalous lives and private affairs of its cast.
However, while those aspects can be unfortunate, that’s nothing compared to the sad and crude tragedies that have happened on the sea, and which viewers of the show have seen throughout the 17 seasons the show has aired.
What happened to those sunken ships we have seen in the show? Have any cast members died on board? Just sit and pay attention, because from now on you’ll get to know all the insights into the saddest tragedies on the sea of “Deadliest Catch.
An unwanted guest comes aboard the Wizard and leaves behind a mess 🐦
— Deadliest Catch (@DeadliestCatch) May 31, 2021
“Deadliest Catch” On Board Tragedies
While we will mostly showcase incidents that have been included in the show, we will also include some unfortunate happenings involving former cast members, or ships which have been part of “Deadliest Catch” in the past.
Big Valley Sinking
Although the Big Valley wasn’t directly part of the show, its sinking remains one of the earliest and saddest events to be showcased in “Deadliest Catch”, letting the audience see the US Coast Guard and the crew members of the ships Maverick, Cornelia Marie and Sea Rover as they searched for the sunken crabber’s survivors. On a side note, Big Valley appeared in the pilot episode of “Deadliest Catch”, making the situation ever sadder for those cast members who got to meet its crew.
What happened to it? The unfortunate event goes back to the morning of 15 January 2005, when at exactly 8AM, the Big Valley’s Captain Gary Edwards set-off the ship’s emergency radio beacon.
Right then, the ship was located 70 miles away from Saint Paul Island, Alaska.
Despite the fact that the crew could mark their location, the situation unfortunately got out of hand just too soon. The search efforts lasted for several days, but out of the six crew-members on board, only one survived – two dead bodies were recovered and three were never found, including Edwards’.
Following the declarations of the only survivor, Cache Seel, he was asleep at the time he felt the ship was ‘rolling over’. In the middle of his confusion, he heard his fellow crew members voices, but the situation was so hasty that his only instinct was to reach the life raft.
According to the local authorities, at the time of its sinking, the Big Valley was carrying three times its weight capacity, which could have been the cause of the ship’s demise.
Ocean Challenger Sinking
One year after the shipwreck of the Big Valley, another tragedy hit “Deadliest Catch” with the sinking of the commercial ship Oceans Challenger.
The unfortunate event took place in October 2006, when the boat capsized while fishing only 90 miles away from Sand Point. While the true cause of the accident is still unknown even after so many years, the weather apparently played a big part in the boat’s unfortunate fate.
Out of four crew members, only the fisherman Kevin Ferrel survived thanks to the fact that he was wearing a survival suit. It was also reported that prior to the ship’s capsize, the crew was able to launch a life raft, but we’re unable to reach it due to rough sea conditions.
Despite the fact that the Ocean Challenger wasn’t part of “Deadliest Catch”, some of the cast members can be seen taking part in the search for and recovery of the bodies in the third season’s episode “The Unforgiving Sea”.
Alaska Ranger Sinking
The tragedy surrounding the now-sunk ship Alaska Ranger is one of those stories that make people wish things had been handled differently. The Ranger had been operative for over 30 years at the time of its capsizing, and was owned by a famous fishing factory. However, no matter the apparent expertise of its crew, it didn’t prevent the boat from going through a fate which resulted in the death of five people on 23 March 2008.
The sinking’s cause was thoroughly investigated by authorities, and while many theories were considered, official reports point to the loss of the rudder and the subsequent flooding of its room as the accident’s origin.
However, if there’s something that still raises eyebrows about this case, it’s the fact that the Coast Guard had initially received the wrong number of crew members to find, which led them to stop the search at 46 people, and only resumed the operation the following day when they were informed that another person was missing.
The shipwreck resulted in 42 survivors and four dead bodies being recovered. The one person lost at sea was the same one the Guard Coast had to resume the rescue efforts for, but it’s obvious that it was too late for that crew member at that point.
If you’re interested in knowing more about this sad accident, “Deadliest Catch” aired a short special-episode about the case for the fourth season’s finale episode, entitled “The Last Hour”.
The Sink Of The Katmai
At this point you might have already noticed that shipwrecks are not a rare occurrence to be showcased in the show.
The story of the fishing vessel Katmai is similar to the previous ones, having sunk on 21 October 2008 at 120 miles away from the west side of Adak Island. At the time, it was supposed that the shipwreck was caused by a storm moving through the Amchitka Pass, but as it was later determined in an investigation, the vessel was actually presenting many problems even before that.
Out of 11 crew members boarding the Katmai, only four survived. One of them was the ship’s captain Henry Blake III, who affirmed at the Board of Investigation of the Coast Marine that the ship was presenting problems related to its pumps since the start of the fishing season. Although he had hoped that the crew could go on without major inconvenience, it ultimately resulted with the flooding of the vessel. The moment in which the situation turned for the worse, he ordered his crew to put on their security suits.
Blake and part of the crew held on to a life raft for 17 hours until their rescue, but it was already too late for seven of them. You can see the Katmai’s heart-breaking demise in the first two episodes of “Deadliest Catch”s fifth season.
Phil Harris Death
The death of Cornelia Marie’s captain and owner Phil Harris is probably the saddest event that has happened in the show. Not only was he a long-time cast member, but was also a definite fan favorite.
The story of Phil is inspiring to say the least. He was actually introduced to fishing by his father in his childhood, resulting in him becoming captain at only 21 years of age, something very unusual in the Bering Sea’s fishing business. Though besides his impressive career, his personal life was turbulent; after two divorces, it seems that Phil’s romantic life wasn’t very steady, and so it was with his relationship with his younger son Jake, with whom he had a strong argument regarding the young man’s addiction habits, weeks before his health took a turn for the worse.
So if you don’t remember what happened to him, it will be good to refresh your memory. Phil started the 2010s crab fishing season with several health problems, including back disk injuries and chronic pain, something which Phil endured for weeks until 29 January, when he was found on his room’s floor, unable to move. Phil was transported from the Cornelia Marie to Anchorage Hospital, and while in the following weeks his condition seemed to be improving, he died on 9 February 2010.
If you want to remember him, you can watch the episode in his honor entitled “Valhalla”, part of the sixth season of “Deadliest Catch”. However, Phil Harris was a strong man whose legacy went beyond TV, and he will be remembered by his family, crew and fans of the series.
Although this accident didn’t involve a shipwreck or someone’s death, it ended up with some severe negative consequences.
To wrap up this story, in January 2013 the Hillstrands brothers’ fishing vessel the Time Bandit was transporting a load of fireworks of their family’s brand. The fisherman David Zielinski was apparently ordered to launch the device in celebration of a sports’ team victory, but the situation got out of hand when one exploded on his hand, destroying his skin and bones.
Fortunately Zielinski didn’t lose his life in such a terrible event, but he ended up losing his hand. He subsequently filed a lawsuit asking for monetary compensation from the Hillstrands brothers, which was ultimately granted in his favor in July 2019.
Sig Hansen’s Heart Attack
Sig Hansen is not only one of the most well-known captains in “Deadliest Catch”, but he’s also a very polemic one.
However, while we’re not going to get into the details of his personal life or the legal issues that he has had for years, it’s important to point out that his life is very complicated on the sea as well, especially when it comes to his health.
In 2016, the show’s audience got to see the dramatic moment in which Sig suffered severe chest pain and subsequently fell unconscious. While at the time it was seemingly obvious for the viewers that he was suffering a heart attack, Sig only learned the true nature of the incident after the Northwestern reached Dutch Harbor, and he was taken to see a health specialist in Anchorage not long after. The incident was followed by a long recovery that kept him away from the screen for an entire season.
Later in October 2018 Sig suffered a second heart attack which was apparently related to an allergy caused by the use of medicaments.
Though this incident wasn’t directly shown on screen, Sig mentioned it in a 15th season’s episode.
Sig Hansen’s health has fortunately been stable these past years, but he surely frightened “Deadliest Catch”s fans more than a few times.
Jeff Hathaway and The Destination
Even if the ship and its crew weren’t part of the show cast, the sinking of the fishing vessel The Destination is definitely one of the saddest tragedies showcased in “Deadliest Catch”.
The Destination went missing while roaming the waters of the Bering Sea near St. George Island, on 11 February 2017. Following reports from the time, the incident occurred just too quickly, and it left the six-member crew with little to no time to react or launch a raft to save their lives, ultimately resulting with the unfortunate deaths of all of them. As several journals reported at the time, The Destination marked the biggest shipwreck tragedy to occur in Alaskan waters in over a decade.
In honor of The Destination’s crew and their families, “Deadliest Catch” aired a brief special in its 13th season’s finale episode, in which it was very clear how saddened by the tragedy some of the show’s cast members were. It turns out, the sunk ship’s late captain, Jeff Hathaway was their personal friend or even a hero in Jake Anderson’s case, who expressed how important the man was for him during an interview with PopCulture in 2018: ‘he was the first person to ever offer me a real job as a captain’.
Sadly enough, everything points to The Destination being overloaded well beyond its capacity, though the crew wasn’t to blame, as they apparently weren’t informed of the true limitations of the vessel.
Scandies Rose Sink
The sinking of the Scandies Rose in 2020 wasn’t showcased in “Deadliest Catch”, but involved a former cast member, Dean Gribble Jr, who appeared in the 13th season of the show.
The Scandies Rose capsized on New Years Eve 2020, while it navigated the waters near Kodiak Island, resulting in the death of three people. Only two crew survived the tragedy, including the ship’s captain Gribble, and fisherman John Lawler.
While it’s known that the shipwreck was caused by severe, rough wind and sea conditions, Gribble affirms it just happened too fast: ‘From sleeping to swimming was about 10 minutes’, he told ABC News, clearly indicating that the boat’s sinking had taken everyone by surprise.
The sinking of Scandies Rose and all of the other tragedies we have mentioned so far surely affected the families and friends of those who died. However, it also shows the crudeness and reality of the fishing occupation, putting a deeper insight into what “Deadliest Catch” is truly about.