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Righting the FAIL boat.
February 27, 2008 1:00 AM   Subscribe

The Cougar Ace [previously] became an instant Internet meme when she nearly capsized while shifting ballast near Adak, Alaska. Not enough told is the story of righting her, which required incredible bravery and, sadly, the loss of one human life.
posted by pjern (20 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Those salvage cowboys seem like the ultimate badasses. Sadly, according to the video, the death toll is up to three.
posted by farishta at 1:13 AM on February 27, 2008


Only one of the three died on the Cougar Ace, the other two were on previous jobs.
posted by pjern at 1:23 AM on February 27, 2008




And more importantly:

http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=K7zZbTC6UCA
posted by uncanny hengeman at 2:17 AM on February 27, 2008


Cool article. Thanks for posting.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:42 AM on February 27, 2008


Interesting article, good follow up. Thanks!
posted by Daddy-O at 4:26 AM on February 27, 2008


Those salvage cowboys seem like the ultimate badasses. Sadly, according to the video, the death toll is up to three.

Three in three years. No idea about before that. Dangerous, dangerous work. Though honestly, these guys would make for a great reality TV show.
posted by The Michael The at 5:21 AM on February 27, 2008


Thanks for this, it's a great story:

Reed agrees with Johnson's assessment — the ship could easily flop. To decrease that risk, the team needs to make sure that the largest low-side ballast tank is filled, so it counterbalances any rapid roll. The crew had reported that they left it half full. This will be the team's first important task: a journey to the deepest part of the ship to drill a hole in the tank and fill it all the way...

It takes them almost three hours of rappelling and climbing to descend to the 13th deck, and when they get there, no one is that excited to have arrived. This far down, they are well below the waterline. The Bering Sea presses in on the steel hull. They feel like they're inside an abandoned submarine.

Reed and Habib crawl along the tilted deck, periodically consulting a drawing of the ship's internal compartments. They rap their knuckles on a piece of steel — this is the top of the low-side ballast tank. Trepte pulls out a drill and bores down. Suddenly, water erupts. The tank is already full and pressurized — water must be flowing in through a broken vent on the underwater side of the ship. It sprays furiously. They have unwittingly caused the worst thing possible: The deepest cargo hold is flooding.

In an instant, Trepte covers the hole with the tip of a finger and presses hard. The sound of gushing water abruptly stops, and the shouts and curses of the moment before echo through the hold. Salt water drips off Mazdas, and the panic the men all felt transforms into a contagious laugh.

Trepte is keeping the ship afloat with one finger.

"Well, I guess the tank is already full," Reed chuckles.

posted by mediareport at 5:22 AM on February 27, 2008


I read this yesterday, and agree it's a great story. It's one of those tales that seems primed for a movie adaptation at some point. Also, I want to work with these guys.
posted by malaprohibita at 5:38 AM on February 27, 2008


The death was not just a tragic accident. It was negligence. There is no way he should've been there and not been tied off. Given that he was inexperienced it should have been the responsibility of the experienced climbers to look after him. Sometimes maverick is a code phrase for stupidly reckless.
posted by srboisvert at 5:43 AM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Gah! How about a [Spoiler Alert] for the three of us who still subscribe to Wired and haven't gotten around to reading the article yet!

Or, perhaps I should finally just get around to canceling my subscription and reading the few good articles as they are linked from Metafilter.
posted by bondcliff at 5:55 AM on February 27, 2008


Way to go, ace.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 6:13 AM on February 27, 2008


Mayani sounds like a real winner. But I guess that just hammers in one of the points; it's not bravery, the team aren't heroes. It was a job. Habib smiled. Insurance lawyers have calculated the value of a pinky — $14,000, tops — and that's far less than the value of a modern commercial vessel.

With that said, it is a shame that the one death happened so needlessly, as srboisvert commented.
posted by artifarce at 6:36 AM on February 27, 2008


This article was very well done. It's kind of sad that one person would die trying to save a bunch of expensive cars (which end up being destroyed anyways).
posted by drezdn at 7:19 AM on February 27, 2008


This article was very well done. It's kind of sad that one person would die trying to save a bunch of expensive cars (which end up being destroyed anyways).

How about the value of the vessel itself? Those car carriers aren't cheap. Oh, and the environmental cleanup if the boat ended up on the rocks. It wouldn't have been Valdez sized, but that much fuel in that area would have been a mess.

And, yeah, these guys are Cowboys, but it is a dangerous job. That having been said, the guy that died shouldn't have been on the boat with the lack of experience he had.
posted by SpannerX at 8:38 AM on February 27, 2008


Great article, thanks for posting. I did small vessel SAR in Florida for four years while I was at school -- this stuff fascinates me...

And had the cars/ship not been worth saving, the ship and all its toxic nastiness would have coated the Aleutians. Money was the motivation of course, but some good came out of it beside that.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 8:39 AM on February 27, 2008


SpannerX, true, but there's a good chance it would have happened with their intervention anyways, after all, if their projections were wrong, the ship would have completely flipped over anyways.
posted by drezdn at 8:58 AM on February 27, 2008


Sometimes maverick is a code phrase for stupidly reckless.

Doesn't sound that way from the article. It sounds like Johnson, with a lack of climbing experience and the tenseness of the situation, forgot to tie on to his safety cord when he went back up to get the additional rope. An ultimately fatal error of judgment, but I wouldn't consider it stupidly reckless. People make mistakes all the time, but in their line of work, mistakes can mean your neck. It's a shame, it sounded like he had some real talent.

Were it me, with my incredible lack of climbing experience, I'd be so paranoid about falling that I'd be triple-checking my safety line. I don't know why he wasn't similarly paranoid, but then I'm sitting in a chair in my warm home, not dangling 80 feet off the side of a listing cargo vessel, so it's not really appropriate for me to make assumptions on the guy's character.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:52 AM on February 28, 2008


Great article. Thanks.
posted by generalist at 7:33 AM on February 28, 2008


it's not really appropriate for me to make assumptions on the guy's character.

I wasn't judging Johnson's character (though he probably shouldn't have been there). I was judging the character of the experienced crew he was with who failed to look after him. It wasn't Johnson who was reckless. He was just inexperienced and paid a deadly price. Habib was reckless. There were two falls that needn't have happened on that boat. One lethal and one lucky not to be lethal. Both happened because they didn't have proper safety measures in place. A team leader who runs a team with that kind of reckless disregard for safety is an idiot.

If he were a foreman in a plant he wouldn't be getting articles written about his cool cowboy style. He would be roundly condemned for exposing his workers to needless danger and getting one of his workers killed. They do a dangerous job but that is no excuse for making it even more dangerous by not having reasonable safety measures like proper training and procedures.
posted by srboisvert at 1:32 AM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


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