Since its debut in April 2005, Discovery Channel’s ‘Deadliest Catch’ has become one of the most popular reality television series on air, and perhaps the most successful reality show filmed in Alaska. ‘Deadliest Catch’ follows the daily lives of crab fishermen onboard a fleet of fishing vessels operating from Dutch Harbor in Alaska, documenting their activities and struggles as they brave the hazards of the Bering Sea.
The filming of ‘Deadliest Catch’ typically happens during the Alaskan King Crab and Snow Crab seasons, which subsequently schedules the show’s release around the same time between April and July. Due to high demand, the show has survived several seasons, airing its sixteenth instalment in April 2020.
Its popularity also led to the creation of numerous spin-offs and inspired the development of two video games.
As the show’s name suggests, there are many dangers associated with the crab fishing industry, and many consider it one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. In fact, the American Bureau of Labour Statistics has ranked commercial fishing as the occupation with the highest fatality rate. Statistically, the fatality rate averages 142 deaths per 100,000 fishermen, which is 75% higher than that of most other occupations, making a career in commercial fishing more dangerous than occupations in aviation and logging, for example. However, the commercial crab fishing industry is considered the most dangerous.
Crab fishing might provide lucrative rewards, but to attain success, the vessels and their crews have to overcome overwhelming odds and many hazards. The Bering Sea holds many dangers, but especially so during the crab seasons.
Some of the hazards include rogue waves, cold winds, and ice formations, and as such, it’s no surprise that the leading causes of death among crab fishermen are drowning and hypothermia. The bad conditions, coupled with the fact that they work with heavy equipment on rocking boats, mean that the injury expectations among crews are always high.
Even with the coast guard readily available for rescue missions, the isolated distance so far into the sea further increases the fatality risk of any injuries, but either way, the show earns its name. Considering the odds against them, it comes as no surprise that ‘Deadliest Catch’ has captured not only injuries and close calls on film, but also the unfortunate deaths of crewmates.
In remembrance of the lives lost during the voyages of the vessels featured on ‘Deadliest Catch’, we will uncover the mysteries of their bravery, and relive the unfortunate events that cost more than they should.
Skipper Phil Harris
The most noteworthy tragedy that happened on ‘Deadliest Catch’ would perhaps be the death of Skipper Phil Harris back in 2010. Many viewers might remember the incident, since most of what occurred before Phil’s untimely passing ended up on film. The incident in question happened during the filming of the sixth season, which would unfortunately become the last season Captain Harris appeared on ‘Deadliest Catch’.
On 29 January, while off-loading their latest haul of snow crabs at St. Paul Island, Captain Harris retired to his stateroom complaining about pain and exhaustion. After taking pain medication, he collapsed and one of ‘Cornelia Marie’s engineers, Steve Ward, discovered the captain. Although conscious, Harris could not use the left side of his body and was in critical condition.
Ward immediately informed Phil’s sons, Josh and Jake, who came to the assistance of their father while Ward called for a medical response team. Harris insisted that the cameras keep rolling, despite the desperation of the situation. According to Thom Beers, the producer of ‘Deadliest Catch’, Harris hoped to film the resilience and strength of their family’s bond, and to show the world how a stressful position can take its toll.
Beers honoured the captain’s wish and, continued to film as a helicopter air-lifted Phil to the nearest hospital in Anchorage, Alaska. Thom later revealed that Phil suffered a stroke, and doctors attempted to save his life by performing cranial surgery to relieve the building pressure on his brain. After spending eleven days in intensive care, Captain Harris succumbed to the complications resulting from the stroke.
On the season finale of #DeadliestCatch, the Cornelia Marie finds itself in the middle of an ice pack.
— Deadliest Catch (@DeadliestCatch) September 23, 2020
Following the untimely demise of Captain Phil Harris, Tony Lara took over as skipper of the ‘Cornelia Marie’, though only featured for the duration of the snow crab segment of the seventh season. Sadly, at the age of fifty, Lara passed away in Sturgis, South Dakota.
Fortunately, the viewers did not have to endure watching the death of yet another skipper on the same vessel, as Lara departed during the off-season. While enjoying time away from the dangers of the Bering Sea, Tony attended a motorcycle rally in South Dakota, where ‘Deadliest Catch’s producers later revealed he suffered a fatal heart attack.
When news of Captain Lara’s untimely death broke, fans took to social media, expressing their sorrow and sending the remaining Lara family members their condolences. Despite his short appearance on the show, Captain Lara left a lasting impression on fans, and as such, lives on in memory.
Although unrelated to the show, the disconcerting tragedy about the death of Dr Keith Anderson might nonetheless receive honourary mention, since the events of his passing played out on-screen. Dr Keith was the late father of Jake Anderson, the current captain of the ‘Saga’, and previous deckhand of the ‘Northwestern’. Dr Keith went missing in 2010, while Jake still served on the ‘Northwestern’.
Out of concern for his safety, ‘Deadliest Catch’ featured the story as part of their show with the hope that someone might come forward with important information about the doctor’s well-being, or at least situation. During 43-years of marriage, Keith had never spent a night away from his family, leading his closest kin to believe he hadn’t disappeared voluntarily.
The initial police investigation was in vain, as they only discovered Dr Keith’s abandoned pick-up truck in a rural area of Washington State. Police also located his personal belongings, which included his cellular phone, outside the family home. Jake feared the worst, especially after police found a traces of blood on Keith’s car keys, yet with no further discoveries, the case turned cold.
Sadly, two years later, a hiker chanced upon skeletal remains near where the police discovered Keith’s truck. DNA testing confirmed that the remains were indeed that of Dr Keith, but as of yet, the police investigation couldn’t determine what happened to the doctor. Viewers of ‘Deadliest Catch’ kept up with the story, and when news of Keith’s unfortunate fate reached the public, they expressed their condolences with encouraging messages to the Anderson family.
In 2011, fans of ‘Deadliest Catch’ once again endured sad news, when one of the youngest crew members of the ‘Time Bandit’ fishing vessel passed away. At the age of 33, Justin succumbed due to complications associated with sleep apnea, an illness from which Justin suffered for a long time.
The disease has numerous causes, but among fishermen, the most commonly believed cause is attributed to their hectic schedules and lack of rest. Fatal symptoms of the disease could include an enlarged heart and high cholesterol, which would eventually cause the patient’s death.
Unfortunately, it took Justin at a very young age, ultimately claiming another victim to the strain of a hard and perilous job.
Staff discovered Justin in his hotel room in Homer, Alaska, only four days after returning from the sea, where they believe he passed away peacefully in his sleep. In honour of their crewmate, the remaining members of the ‘Time Bandit’ posted their farewell on the show’s dedicated website.
They expressed their sorrow, stating that they will miss him and how much they appreciated all the effort and sweat he put in during his service on the ‘Time Bandit’. Justin’s memory lives on with his grandparents, father, sister, daughter and son.
One of the most recent deaths on the show was the sad departure of the former ‘Maverick’ captain, Blake Painter.
In May of 2018, police discovered Painter at his home in Astoria, Oregon while performing a routine wellness check, after Painter’s friends reported that they hadn’t seen him for some time.
Upon investigating, police discovered that Painter passed away days before their discovery, but despite the concern expressed by his friends, police didn’t suspect foul play at the time. A toxicology report confirmed that Painter succumbed to a self-induced overdose. Blake hadn’t appeared on ‘Deadliest Catch’ since 2007, after it became apparent that he struggled with a narcotic problem.
Earlier in 2018, a local newspaper reported that police arrested Painter on charges of driving under the influence of heroin. Police also discovered narcotics and prescription drugs after checking in on him at his home in May.
Joe McMahon may not have been a familiar face in front of the camera, nor did he haul crabs or participate in the hard and laborious efforts as do the crew members of the various fishing vessels. However, his untimely passing in 2015 nonetheless affected the show. Joe began a promising career on ‘Deadliest Catch’ in 2013, when ‘Original Productions’ hired him as an associate producer.
Joe worked on nine episodes of ‘Deadliest Catch’, enduring the same conditions as the fishermen he worked with, but sadly at the age of 24, his promising career came to a brutal end. In July of 2015, Police responded to a possible gun-related incident in Pasadena, California. There, police discovered Joe, shot and killed in cold blood in front of his parents’ home. Shortly after the news of Joe’s sad demise reached the public, police stated that they found the suspected, un-named gunman in his car.
It appeared that shortly after committing the heinous act of murdering Joe, the gunman turned the gun on himself.
To date, police have not released an official account of what happened, but it seemed that the entire affair was a personal dispute.
The Mystery of Nick McGlashan Death
The latest death announced by the producers of ‘Deadliest Catch’ is that of the deckhand, Nick McGlashan. However, his recent departure remains something of a mystery as the police have not concluded their investigation.
On Sunday, 27 December 2020, a friend discovered Nick unconscious in a hotel room in Nashville, Tennessee, but by the time paramedics arrived, it was too late. Nick became a prominent figure on ‘Deadliest Catch’ as a promising young skipper, who captained vessels that included the ‘Cape Caution’ and the ‘Summer Bay’.
However, as many viewers might know, Nick battled drug and alcohol addiction during his time on the show. According to evidence discovered in the hotel room, police suspect his death might be drug-related, most likely because of a self-induced overdose. However, the authorities await the results of a yet to be released toxicology test before reaching a final verdict.
Nick passed away at the young age of 33. As of yet, the circumstances surrounding McGlashan’s death remain under speculation.
The ‘Ocean Challenger’
As mentioned, the Bering Sea can at times become extremely tumultuous, and if it decides to turn bad, it can claim not only one life but the fate of an entire crew. The Bering Sea has certainly proved its devastating power on ‘Deadliest Catch’ a couple of times, and as much as its majesty intrigues the audience, it can strike fear into the hearts of even the hardiest folk.
— Deadliest Catch (@DeadliestCatch) September 22, 2020
Acting as a reminder to many, when the Bering Sea conquered the ‘Ocean Challenger’ in 2006, it reminded not only to the crews but the world that the dangers crab fishing vessels face are as real as daylight. For yet unknown reasons, the ‘Ocean Challenger’ capsized and began taking on water, leaving the four-man crew onboard fighting for survival.
Sadly, the coast guard discovered only one survivor, 28-year-old Kevin Ferrell, who managed to get a survival suit on in time. The skipper, David ‘Cowboy’ Hasselquist, and deckhand, Walter Foster, did not survive – the coast guard eventually recovered their bodies, however, the fourth crew member, Kodiak, has never been found, but is presumed dead. The coast guard’s rescue efforts featured in two episodes of the third season, aptly named ‘A Tragic Beginning’ and ‘The Unforgiving Sea’.
The Destination’s Final Voyage
The tragic fate of the ‘Ocean Challenger’ would, however, dwarf in comparison to the tragedy that awaited the Dutch Harbor fleet during the 2017 crab fishing season, an event that provided ‘Deadliest Catch’ with the most dramatic and saddest time in the show’s history.
During the early snow crab season in 2017, the Bering Sea claimed the fishing vessel ‘Destination’, which sank for unknown reasons, and took the lives of the entire crew on board. The season 13 episode, ‘Lost At Sea’, documented the investigation led by the coast guard – only a few buoys and oil spillage was found, indicating that the vessel had sunk.
The crew on board, which consisted of the Captain, Jeff Hathaway, and deckhands Charles Glenn Jones, Larry O’Grady, Raymond Vincler, Darrik Seibold, and Kai Hamik, were presumed dead – their bodies were never found, although a more comprehensive search later discovered the vessel in 250 feet, 75 meters of water.
The ‘Destination’s final voyage became the subject of a documentary on the Smithsonian Channel, ‘Disasters At Sea’, featuring in the episode aptly named ‘Destination Unknown’.
May the souls of the dearly departed rest in peace, and all the victims of the sea shall live on in the memory of their loved ones, and of course, in the hearts of the many fans and viewers of ‘Deadliest Catch’.
By no means have the Seven Seas ever been kind to sailors, but the hauls of these fishermen are their livelihoods, and our entertainment, often paid for by the highest price. Hopefully these details don’t dissuade you from watching the series, and perhaps appreciating even more the trials and tribulations of the fishing vessel crews, and in deed the production teams of ‘Deadliest Catch’.