The Coast Guard will begin an official investigation today as to what caused one of its tough, 44-foot rescue boats to roll over along the Washington coast, tossing its crew in the water and killing three guardsmen.
Four Coast Guard officers from around the country - a “mishap analysis board” - were headed for the coastal town of La Push to begin the process of finding out what caused Wednesday’s accident, which occurred as the crew was trying to aid a sailboat in distress.
The team will be at the accident site, the mouth of the Quillayute River, today to begin its investigation, said Coast Guard spokeswoman Lt. Martha LaGuardia.
“This is primarily a safety investigation, much similar to the type of work that the National Transportation Safety Board does,” said Capt. Edmund Kiley, chief of operations for the 13th Coast Guard District.
A second investigation will look at the performance of people involved. It will assess “the responsibility and fault, possible negligence,” and recommend administrative or disciplinary actions “if appropriate,” said Cmdr. John Odell, legal officer for the 13th District.
Killed in the accident were Seaman Clinton P. Miniken, 22, of Snohomish; Petty Officer 2nd Class David A. Bosley, 36, of Coronado, Calif.; and Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew E. Schlimme, 24, of Whitewater, Mo.
The sole survivor, Seaman apprentice Benjamin Wingo, was rescued from the base of a cliff on James Island, about half a mile offshore. Wingo, 19, of Bremerton, suffered a broken nose and cuts on his face.
He had not yet been formally interviewed about the accident, Kiley said.
“About the only thing that we know is he said that the vessel rolled over several times and came upright,” Kiley said.
“The key thing is to interview the survivor, find out what happened, take the testimony of witnesses,” Kiley said. “There’ll be an engineering expert who will examine the condition of the vessel.”
Kiley said he didn’t know what exactly killed the victims, although the bodies were “traumatized.”
He also said he didn’t know whether the crew members were strapped in, which is standard operating procedure in rough water. Conditions the night of the accident included 25-foot seas and 40-knot winds at the mouth of the Quillayute, about 115 miles west of Seattle.
“If you look at the vessel, the condition of the vessel, it’s conceivable that the forces involved could have broken away” the rings that hold the straps, he said, noting that the boat’s superstructure was crushed.
The accident was the first fatal capsizing of the steel rescue boats in their 35-year history, the Coast Guard said.