USCG, Stakeholders Respond to Whittier, AK Explosion, Dock Fire
Coast Guard crews have suspended the search for one person missing after an explosion and subsequent fire at Delong Dock in Whittier, Alaska, Monday.
An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, forward deployed to Cordova, searched by air while crews aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Chandeleur and Coast Guard Auxiliary 336 also conducted a search for the missing person.
Shortly after midnight, Coast Guard Sector Anchorage watchstanders heard the phrase "Whittier fire, Whittier fire" over VHF Channel 16 and contacted Whittier dispatchers, who confirmed there was a fire at Delong Dock. Several minutes later, an Alaska Railroad security officer also reported the situation.
The explosion reportedly occurred on a fixed barge, and the fire spread to the pier and then to the Alaganik, a 99-foot commercial fishing vessel that was initially reported to have two people aboard at the time of the explosion. Whittier Police Department personnel have since confirmed one of those two is safely aboard a different vessel en route to Whittier.
Sector watchstanders issued a Safety Marine Information Broadcast that established a 100 yard safety zone to keep vessels a safe distance from the fire while the crew of the Chandeleur launched in response to help maintain the safety zone and conduct a search.
By 2:50 a.m., Whittier Fire Department personnel confirmed the fire extinguished.
The fishing vessel and barge sank in 85 feet of water at the pier with a potential maximum of 5,500 gallons of fuel oil aboard. The fishing vessel owners have contracted Global Diving and Salvage for clean-up and salvage efforts.
Brian Hicks, Whittier Fire Department chief and the on-scene commander, confirmed personnel from Whittier Fire Department, Whittier Police Department, Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel Fire Department and Girdwood Fire Department all involved in the response, including crews aboard Tender 41 and Tender 42 from Girdwood.
“The Coast Guard committed all available resources in conducting this search effort," said Cmdr. Mark Kuperman, Coast Guard Sector Anchorage deputy commander and the search-and-rescue mission coordinator for the search. "Our thoughts are with the family and friends who were impacted by this tragedy.”
A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew, the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Chandeleur and volunteers aboard Coast Guard Auxiliary Boat 336 conducted the search across approximately 12 square miles over the course of 17 hours.
The Coast Guard has conducted a next of kin notification and Coast Guard personnel have assumed lead in the National Safety Transportation Board investigation into the cause of the explosion.