Crabbing vessel capsizes in rough Delaware Bay waters

A Leipsic Volunteer Fire Company rescue boat prepares to tow a capsized commercial crabbing vessel in the Delaware Bay on Thursday afternoon. (Submitted photo/Little Creek Fire Department)

A Leipsic Volunteer Fire Company rescue boat prepares to tow a capsized commercial crabbing vessel in the Delaware Bay on Thursday afternoon. (Submitted photo/Little Creek Fire Department)

LITTLE CREEK — A dangerous mix of high winds, low temperature, breaking waves and an incoming tide put three men in a perilous spot after their boat overturned in the Delaware Bay on Thursday afternoon.

According to authorities, the 25-foot commercial crabbing vessel sunk after taking waves to the port and starboard sides, leaving the three men clinging to the hull in 53-degree water about three miles east of Port Mahon.

Authorities said the men were rescued within 28 minutes of the emergency notification, and located without injuries by a Little Creek Volunteer Fire Company rescue boat.

A Delaware State Police helicopter hovered over the rescue scene as well, authorities said.

The boat captain was a 34-year-old Townsend resident, joined by a 38-year-old Townsend resident and a 50-year-old Dover resident,

A Leipsic Volunteer Fire Company rescue boat towed a capsized 25-foot commercial vessel back to Port Mahon on Thursday afternoon, before water was then pumped from the boat.

A Leipsic Volunteer Fire Company rescue boat towed a capsized 25-foot commercial vessel back to Port Mahon on Thursday afternoon, before water was then pumped from the boat.

DNREC said. Officials said victims’ identities are not disclosed publicly in any case.

DNREC Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police spokesman Sgt. John McDerby said investigation found that the men clung to the vessel that was stern down for approximately 3- to 3½-hours overall.

“They took a wave over the portside of the boat and the captain tried to correct the boat before it took a wave off the starboard side and the boat capsized within seconds,” Sgt. McDerby said.

“They got themselves on top of the boat and were able to hold onto the hull, so they weren’t completely in the water.”

Based on the weather conditions, described by the Little Creek Volunteer Fire Company as “poor,” the ultimate result could have been far worse.

“With the temperature of the water and air and condition of the sea, they were definitely susceptible to hypothermia due to the environmental conditions,” Sgt. McDerby said.

A quick and coordinated response from several emergency responders possibly saved the men from a far worse fate, Sgt. McDerby said.

“This is the reason we’re on the water and have marine units on patrol and able to respond to reports of people and vessels in distress,” he said.

Echoing those thoughts was Little Creek Chief Michael Bundek.

“I was extremely proud of the members who were on board the initial rescue boat that located the subjects,” he said.

“I am equally pleased that all of the responding agencies worked together so effectively. In a nutshell three lives saved, the vessel was recovered and there were no responder injuries.

“Water rescue emergencies of this magnitude are unpredictable and often are low frequency and high risk. The time our members commit to training showed during this rescue which was handled flawlessly.”

Dangerous water reported

A 911 call from the boat reported the vessel was experiencing dangerously high seas in the Delaware Bay, but DNREC said the connection was lost. However, authorities said, a concerned citizen called Kent County Emergency Communications Center at 3:38 p.m. to notify that the vessel did not return to the dock as expected.

Typically, commercial vessels do not file float plans, DNREC said, but do travel in certain areas depending on the time of the year.

A grid search commenced, with rescue boats from the Little Creek, Leipsic and Bowers volunteer fire companies, United States Coast Guard and DNREC taking part, along with the Delaware State Police helicopter.

According to Sgt. McDerby, winds were blowing from the east at 25 knots at the time of the accident, with an incoming tide and four- to five-foot waves.

The stranded crew members were rescued and taken back to the Port Mahon dock, where they were treated for exposure by the Leipsic Fire Emergency Medical Services and Kent County Emergency Medical Services, officials said.

The Little Creek company said the vessel was towed back to the Port Mahon boat ramp by a Leipsic rescue boat. At that point, fire crews pumped the water from the vessel and turned it over to the owner.

DNREC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife Enforcement investigated the incident and filed a report since damage was estimated at more than $500, Sgt. McDerby said.

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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