Search for crab fisherman suspended

Man still missing, two rescued after vessel capsized near Willapa Bay Sunday evening

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended the search for a missing crab fisherman 5:30 p.m. Monday, after a crab vessel capsized near Willapa Bay Sunday evening.

Coast Guard search crews worked through Sunday night and conducted a “first light” search Monday, with assets in the air, in the water and on shore. The search covered 290 square miles over the course of 15 hours and conducted 18 different search patterns, according to a press release from the Coast Guard.

The Pacific County Office of Emergency Management and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife also assisted with the search.

“Suspending search efforts is a tough decision that we never take lightly,” said Lt. Cmdr. Colin Fogarty, the Search and Rescue Mission coordinator for Coast Guard Sector Columbia River. “This search involved close coordination between state and local agencies. We truly appreciate their assistance, especially from Pacific County. The Coast Guard continues to speak with the family affected by this incident.”

Two other crew members from the 46-foot fishing vessel Ethel May out of Bay Center were rescued Sunday evening shortly after the boat capsized.

At approximately 7:30 p.m., watchstanders at the Coast Guard Sector Columbia River in Warrenton, Oregon were alerted of the distressed boat by Pacific County Dispatch, which received a 911 call from the wife of an Ethel May crew member.

Almost simultaneously, the Coast Guard district office in Seattle received a transmission from an emergency beacon on the Ethel May designed to activate when the vessel might be capsizing or sinking.

Two 47-foot lifeboats from Coast Guard Station Grays Harbor in Westport and a helicopter from the Coast Guard Air Station Astoria arrived near the mouth of Willapa Bay at 8:10 p.m. Conditions on scene were 12-foot waves and wind speeds of 19 knots (roughly 22 miles per hour). The water and air temperatures were 47 degrees, according to Petty Officer Second Class Michael Clark, a public affairs specialist with the Coast Guard’s 13th District in Seattle.

The two Ethel May fishermen were found floating in a lifeboat, and were lifted into the helicopter and delivered to an EMS at a nearby airport. They were not wearing life preservers or flotation devices, according to Petty Officer Steve Strohmaier, a public affairs specialist with the Coast Guard’s 13th District in Seattle. The third crew member, a deckhand, couldn’t be located.

On Monday, search crews found the ship’s hull — as well as pieces of debris from the vessel likely broken up by the surf — in and around Willapa Bay. Clark said finding the hull indicates the boat capsized, and didn’t sink directly.

The Dungeness crab fishery opened Feb. 1. Louis Summers, a Westport City Council member and longtime crab fisherman, owned the Ethel May for 31 years, docking it out of Westport, before he sold the boat in December 2021 to Doug Wills of Bay Center.

At 46 feet, the Ethel May was a relatively small crabbing vessel. Summers said the mouth of Willapa Bay creates a shallow channel that can be difficult to navigate, especially in bad weather.

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or