One crew member is missing from a 46-foot crab boat that went down Sunday evening at the mouth of Willapa Bay, Pacific County. Two other crew from the vessel were rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter team.

The accident marked a treacherous start this month to the state’s coastal commercial harvest of Dungeness crab.

The Coast Guard on Monday released video of the rescue operation as the crew members were hoisted from a life raft into the helicopter.

Sunday evening brought rough weather and big waves to the coastal waters off southwest Washington.

Coast Guard teams were notified of the vessel, the FV Ethel May, sinking by an emergency position-indicating radio beacon that began broadcasting a signal as it went down around 7:30 p.m. Sunday, according to Petty Officer Steve Strohmaier, a public affairs specialist for the Coast Guard’s 13th District In Seattle.

The Coast Guard watch in Warrenton, Oregon, was notified of a 911 call made from the wife of one of the crabbers reporting an emergency aboard the vessel.


The Coast Guard helicopter was on scene around 8:10 p.m. The two rescued crew members suffered mild hypothermia and were taken to the Willapa Bay Airport in Raymond, Pacific County. A search by air and sea, as well as some local volunteers working the shoreline, has been underway for the third crew member, according to Strohmaier.

Search crews have located debris from the boat within Willapa Bay, and nearby waters in the Pacific. That indicates the vessel has broken apart, according to a Coast Guard statement.

“We want nothing more than to find the last individual from the fishing vessel Ethel May,” Lt. Cmdr. Colin Fogarty, the search and rescue mission coordinator for Sector Columbia River, said in a statement.

“Since the Coast Guard received initial reports, our operators have been diligently carrying out search operations. We have assets on the water, in the air, and on shore from four different Coast Guard units and we are interfacing with local agencies to effectively search Willapa Bay and the surrounding area.”

The Coast Guard, as of Monday evening, had not released the names of the two survivors or the missing person.

Dungeness crab is the state’s most valuable commercial seafood harvest. The crabbing season opened Feb. 1 off a prime stretch of the southwest Washington coastline that extends to the Oregon border. Another stretch of offshore water, which includes the area off Willapa Bay, opened for harvest Monday.


The Ethel May broke apart after another powerful storm lashed the coastal waters.

Ben Downs, skipper of the crab boat Rising Sun, said he was some 3 miles farther offshore than the Ethel May at the time the vessel was lost in the shallow waters near the bar that stretches across the entrance to Willapa Bay.

Down said that even in deeper water, his boat was hit with 16-foot waves, which struck one after the other at 8-second intervals.

“We took a couple of big ones. I had standing water in my wheelhouse,” Downs said. “The weather wasn’t predicted to be that bad.”

Downs said he received a radio call from the Coast Guard informing him of the loss of the Ethel May and asking whether his crew could render assistance. The conditions included a hard ebb tide with a strong current, and he didn’t think he could make it back to the mouth of the bay. He was later told that the helicopter was on the way.

Downs said the storm prompted him to head to harbor at Westport with about 21,000 pounds of crab aboard his vessel that can hold up to 70,000 pounds.


“I was out not quite two days. It was a short trip,” Downs said. “When we go out there, we know that this is a risky business.”

Mike Beck, 49, runs the FV Jamie Marie. He feels more confident in choppier waters on his 90-foot boat, but he said the weather has been terrible.

“The wind was gusting up to 65 (mph) when we were dumping (crab pot) gear on the third (of February) off the coast of southern Washington,” he said.