ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- The bodies of all five clam diggers who were reported missing from their 20-foot skiff as they returned from a day of harvesting have been found, authorities said Wednesday.
They were long-time contract workers for Pacific Alaska Shellfish, which was notified Tuesday that the crew was missing in an area in Cook Inlet where they were digging for razor clams.
Three of their bodies were found later that day. The remaining two bodies were spotted Wednesday by a Coast Guard helicopter crew on the mudflats well off a beach, less than a mile from where the other bodies were found near Polly Creek, southwest of Kalgin Island.
“This is the most tragic event in our company’s 70 year history," Frank Dulcich, President and CEO of Pacific Seafood Group said. "As Oregonians, this hits especially close to home because three of the deceased are from Oregon, while two are from California.”
“These individuals are considered close friends and family of many within our organization. Right now, our number one priority is to help the loved ones who’ve lost a husband, a father, brother or a friend,” Dulcich added.
A memorial fund was set up for the Polly Creek Clam Diggers at Wells Fargo Bank Branches. Pacific Seafood planned to match all of the donations to the fund, in addition to the financial assistance the company had already provided for the families of the deceased.
The three found Tuesday had on life jackets, while the two recovered Wednesday did not, the Coast Guard said. The skiff was also recovered.
"We don't know what led up to the individuals being in the water," Petty Officer David Mosley said.
The weather was clear with relatively light winds and moderate waves when the clam diggers went missing, he said.
One of the bodies was found Tuesday by employees of the company, which issued a statement calling it the "most tragic event in the history of our company."
"These hard-working and experienced individuals have contracted with our company for many years and are considered close friends and family," Frank Dulcich, president and CEO of Pacific Alaska Shellfish, said.
The Alaska State Troopers were withholding the workers' names until relatives were notified. Pacific Alaska Shellfish is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pacific Seafood Group, headquartered in Clackamas, Oregon.
The company has a seasonal plant in Nikiski, about 60 miles south of Anchorage where it processes razor clams, according to the company's website said.
The clams are harvested on a 6-mile stretch of beach between Polly Creek and the Crescent River.