Out of the fog: Rescuers, survivors reunite for 35th anniversary of Prinsendam rescue

 

Coast Guard Cutter Mellon and Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell, both 378-foot High Endurance Cutters, sit at the pier at Mellon’s homeport of Coast Guard Base Seattle, Oct. 3, 2015. The crew of Boutwell visited Seattle from their homeport of San Diego to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the Prinsendam rescue. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Katelyn Shearer.

Coast Guard Cutter Mellon and Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell, both 378-foot High Endurance Cutters, sit at the pier at Mellon’s homeport of Coast Guard Base Seattle, Oct. 3, 2015. The crew of Boutwell visited Seattle from their homeport of San Diego to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the Prinsendam rescue. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Katelyn Shearer.

 

Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class Katelyn Shearer.

Thirty-five years ago this week, disaster struck.

The passengers and crew of the luxury cruise liner Prinsendam were on their third day of a month-long cruise from Vancouver, British Columbia to ports in Japan, China and Singapore.

Just after midnight on Oct. 4, 1980, a fire erupted in the engine room, eventually forcing the captain to make the difficult decision to abandon ship into the frigid waters of the Gulf of Alaska.

The 427-foot cruise liner Prinsendam burns after suffering an engine room fire in the Gulf of Alaska, Oct. 4, 1980. All 524 passengers and crew members were rescued with no major injuries. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The 427-foot cruise liner Prinsendam burns after suffering an engine room fire in the Gulf of Alaska, Oct. 4, 1980. All 524 passengers and crew members were rescued with no major injuries. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

What followed has been described as one of the greatest sea rescues of all time. Crews from the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Air Force Air Rescue Service, Royal Canadian Air Force, tanker Williamsburgh, oil tanker Sohio Intrepid, container freighter Portland and local agencies successfully rescued all 324 passengers and 200 crewmembers with no serious injuries.

“You never saw a wider smile,” said retired Capt. Leroy G. Krumm, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell at the time of the rescue. “They were so glad to be aboard the cutter when they realized that they were actually going to live. It’s always nice to come back and share those stories.”

Last weekend, more than 150 rescuers, survivors and their families attended a reunion in Seattle to honor the incredible feat that took place over those two days so many years ago.

Dr. Norman Wolk, an attendee of the 2015 Prinsendam Rescue Reunion, asks retired Coast Guard Capt. Leroy G. Krumm, former commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell, a question while viewing a painting depicting the famous rescue on display in the cutter’s wardroom during a tour of the cutter for reunion attendees at Coast Guard Base Seattle, Oct. 3, 2015. More than 150 rescuers, survivors, and their family members attended the reunion to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the rescue. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Katelyn Shearer.

Dr. Norman Wolk, an attendee of the 2015 Prinsendam Rescue Reunion, asks retired Coast Guard Capt. Leroy G. Krumm, former commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell, a question while viewing a painting depicting the famous rescue on display in the cutter’s wardroom during a tour of the cutter for reunion attendees at Coast Guard Base Seattle, Oct. 3, 2015. More than 150 rescuers, survivors, and their family members attended the reunion to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the rescue. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Katelyn Shearer.

“Thirty-five years is a long time,” said M. Crespan, an officer aboard the Prinsendam and the commander of lifeboat #5 during the rescue. “I’m proud of the Coast Guard and thankful for how it turned out that day. This has been the single event in my life that had the most impact and defined the way I’ve lived my life.”

During the reunion, attendees toured Boutwell and Mellon, both 378-foot High Endurance Cutters involved in the rescue and attempted salvage operation of the Prinsendam. Mellon is currently homeported in Seattle, but Boutwell hasn’t been based in the Emerald City since 1990.

“When you’re assigned to a cutter, you have a sense of what you’re doing now, on a day-to-day basis,” said Capt. Edward Westfall, current commanding officer of Boutwell. “But to step back and be able to go through the ship’s history gives you a definite sense of awareness and appreciation. It’s a legacy, and we have a responsibility to get it right.”

After the tours, attendees shared dinner and sea stories. It was an emotional time for some, but all agreed that they were thankful for how everything turned out that day.

“It’s not just my life you saved,” said John Graham, a passenger aboard Prinsendam. “It’s what happened in the last 35 years. What you did ripples on through time.”

Click here to read more about the rescue.

Capt. Edward Westfall, current commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell; retired Capt. Leroy Krumm, commanding officer of Boutwell in 1980; retired Capt. Richard Sardeson, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Mellon in 1980; and Capt. Darran McLenon, current commanding officer of Mellon, pose for a photo during a reunion commemorating the 35th anniversary of the Prinsendam rescue at Coast Guard Base Seattle, Oct. 6, 2015. Boutwell and Mellon, both 378-foot High Endurance Cutters, were involved in the rescue of 524 people after the luxury cruise liner Prinsendam caught fire in the Gulf of Alaska, Oct. 4, 1980. Photo courtesy of retired Senior Chief Stan Jaceks.

Capt. Edward Westfall, current commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell; retired Capt. Leroy Krumm, commanding officer of Boutwell in 1980; retired Capt. Richard Sardeson, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Mellon in 1980; and Capt. Darran McLenon, current commanding officer of Mellon, pose for a photo during a reunion commemorating the 35th anniversary of the Prinsendam rescue at Coast Guard Base Seattle, Oct. 6, 2015. Boutwell and Mellon, both 378-foot High Endurance Cutters, were involved in the rescue of 524 people after the luxury cruise liner Prinsendam caught fire in the Gulf of Alaska, Oct. 4, 1980. Photo courtesy of retired Senior Chief Stan Jaceks.

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One Response

  1. millerthyme59 says:

    I was on the Mellon. Watched it roll over and sink while it was in tow!