PORTLAND, Ore. — Mark Hamlett of Southeast Portland learned about the crabbing tragedy in Newport this week and paused. He knows how fast the Pacific Ocean can turn deadly.
It almost claimed his life and the lives of his sons on June 14, 2003 as they rode aboard a fishing charter called the Taki-Tooo. He’s sharing his story to help people understand how fast things can go wrong.
Eleven people, including the skipper, died in the disaster of the Taki-Tooo.
The morning began stormy.
“It was not a good day,” Hamlett said.
The Taki-Tooo carried a total of 19 people. Seventeen fishermen and women, along with the skipper and a crew member.
The skipper waited near the opening to the bar in Tillamook with three other fishing boats. They all hoped for a moment of calm in the 10- to 15-foot swells.
Eventually, it arrived and the other three boats went through the big waves.
But when the Taki-Tooo gave it a try it quickly ran into trouble.
No one wore life jackets.
Hamlett remembers the moments clearly.
“I was standing on the outside of the cabin when the first green water went over the bow,” he said.
As an experienced commercial fisherman himself, he knew it could get worse. He stepped inside the protected cabin.
“And the next wave, as we rolled up over the crest there were logs in the trough and he turned and tried to miss them and we ended up rolling over sideways, twice before stopped rolling,” Hamlett said.
He was trapped inside the upside-down boat in an air bubble with water up to his chest.
Others trapped with him began diving down and out through an open window. Hamlett could not get there.
“The boat bobbed around there in the surf for a good ten minutes and I was still inside. And then it hit bottom. As it hit bottom it rolled towards the beach. And when it rolled over the entire boat filled with water and everything that was floating was no longer buoying me up and I saw a window and I went out the window and I headed for the surface,” he said.
Hamlett, along with his two sons and son-in-law, survived. The son-in-law’s father did not. The wave hit so fast.
When asked how quickly things went wrong, Hamlett said, “Now! Now. It was immediate."
Hamlett is still somewhat haunted by it all and believes a higher power helped him and his family survive.
"I don’t know how I did, other than the grace of God, get out of that boat."