Feb. 26, 2004 – A research vessel working off St. John made an emergency rescue on Wednesday night after crew members spotted two signal flares through the dark waters eight miles southeast of the island.
According to Steve Clark, V.I. National Park chief ranger, the men — St. John resident Mike Powell and another man identified only as "Ahley" — said they found themselves adrift when they weighed anchor after fishing in deep water and the outboard motor of their 20-foot boat failed.
Clark said the Nancy Foster, a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration research ship, responded to the flares, took the fishermen aboard and radioed the Coast Guard and the park ranger service.
The 150-foot ship is working off St. John this week and next mapping the sea floor of the Coral Reef National Monument. (See "NOAA ship visiting to map coral reef bottoms".)
"I received a call at my residence from the motor vessel Nancy Foster," Clark said on Thursday, noting that the research ship is engaged in "a 24-hour operation for a period of 10 days."
The first flare caught the crew's attention, Clark said. The second one led them to the two men aboard the small fishing boat, which he said was taking on water.
At the time of the encounter seas were rough, with waves of 7 feet or higher, Clark said. A National Park Service boat dispatched to the scene took the fishing vessel under tow and transported the fishermen back to Cruz Bay, he said.
The fishing boat had one life preserver and no radio, Clark said, and it was lucky for the fishermen that they had emergency flares on board.
It was also fortunate that the Nancy Foster was in the vicinity, given the stranded boat's location. Capt. Fred Rossman of the research vessel said he was below deck doing paperwork when the ship's crew alerted him to a possible problem.
"The bridge called and said they spotted a flare in close proximity to the ship," he said. "I came to the bridge and a few minutes later noticed a boat with some gentlemen."
One of the men then lit a hand-held signal flare, Rossman said.
According to park officials, the fishermen said they had been line fishing, and when they decided to pull up their anchor and start their motor, the pull cord of the motor broke. By then, they were in water too deep for their anchor to catch the bottom again.
"They were out there most of the day, and they figured they could probably row in in about eight hours," Rossman said. But he said worsening sea conditions would have made that a difficult task.
Clark said both fishermen were in good condition, although very cold, given the sea spray and winds that whipped them and their vessel for the hours they were adrift.
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