The sinking of the Maverick: A survivor’s account

Fateful fishing voyage


Lonnie Archibald photo


The search for missing commercial La Push-based fisherman Kelly Dickerson, 32, was called off by the Coast Guard on Saturday, Sept. 27.

He was aboard the fishing vessel Maverick, out of the Quileute Marina.

The crew of the Maverick put back to sea from the marina on Wednesday, Sept. 26 after replacing a damaged hose, to complete a voyage fishing for black cod bottom fish, a valuable fish often exported to Japan and other nations.

Four men were aboard: Veteran fishing captain Darby Dickerson, 66, of Port Angles, who has been fishing out of La Push for about 40 years, and Kelly, his son and crew member; crew member Will Oosterga, 53, of La Push; and crew member Dennis Bender of La Push, also in his mid-50s.

Sometime between 4:00 a.m. And 4:30 a.m. on Friday morning, Sept. 28, about 30 miles west-southwest of the mouth of the Quillayute River at La Push, the Maverick was broadsided. The 45-foot commercial fishing boat was pushed 90 degrees on its side, hit by a southward bound 90-foot fishing vessel Viking Storm, its crew steering for Westport with a full load of fish aboard.

The Maverick went down within a few minutes. During that brief time afloat, its starboard side in the water, it’s hull vertical, several twists of fate helped save the lives of Darby, Will and Dennis.

Will fortuitously awoke about 4:00 a.m. and came up to the boat’s cabin from down below to use the head. Bright lights lit up the Maverick from outside, causing him to awake Darby, who was asleep near the wheel and controls of the fishing boat. Shortly thereafter the bow of the 90-foot Viking Storm broadsided the Maverick on its port side, almost capsizing the steel-hulled boat. Dennis, who came up on his own after the impact, had come up to the cabin too. Thinking fast, Will opened the exterior cabin door from inside the cabin which was underwater , pushing it up, dark instead of sideways, as seawater mixed with diesel fuel began to fill the cabin, freeing himself, but by opening the door allowing the cabin of the Maverick to flood faster with sea water. To breathe, Dennis and Darby had to push themselves up to the port windows, which were now the ceiling of the cabin, and had only about six inches of breathing space due to the flooding of the cabin. Dennis dove down The search for missing commercial La Push-based fisherman Kelly Dickerson, 32, was called off by the Coast Guard on Saturday, Sept. 27.

He was aboard the fishing vessel Maverick, out of the Quileute Marina.

Will and Dennis

Chris Cook – Forks Forum photo

Will Oosterga and Dennis Bender at home in La Push Friday evening, Sept. 28 following their survival from the sinking of the fishing vessel Maverick holding their pet dogs Roxy and Mogwai.

Following is Will Oosterga’s account of the incident, recorded on the evening of the wreck at the home he shares with Dennis Bender in the upper village at La Push.

Some time early this morning I woke up you know to go to the bathroom. There was a light outside the boat. I woke the captain up and told him you know I thought it was the Coast Guard out there checking on us. Maybe want to do a safety boarding or something. From the time I that I had seen the light turned away to wake him up the lights and looked back out the lights had gotten a little closer. And you know…trying to figure out if they’re coming at us or not. And all of a sudden I didn’t see the light anymore…had gone out of the view because of the window. That’s when I realized, “hey we’re getting hit,” I told my captain, throw it in the corn, he turned to hit the controls and get us out of the way we got broadsided. And you know we got pushed through the water until the boat had us rolled over on our side, breeching us. Dennis is up from down below by then I guess. We’re moving around trying to figure out how to get out…we’re disoriented. I finally get hold of the door handle I got out and when I let the door open and the boat started to fill with water. I got out and climbed up to the top of the rigging. And got up where I could see there was a window. As they were banging on the window trying to get them out, everything took over my instincts or whatever, I kicked the window through I didn’t have anything else to bash it. Everything was just chaotic. When the window went through Dennis pushed it out, and he pushed Darby out, I’m pulling Darby out and then Dennis was coming out. I helped him get out. We were all out on top then we’re realizing Kelly’s not around. The boat was going down so fast from the openings, you know there was nothing we could do but bail. So Dennis said I went out one side and he and Darby went out the other. We’re in the water then the boats going down we’re getting as far away from it as we could. somehow or another Dennis got over closer to the boat. He ended up getting there. They threw life ring to him a couple times, and he managed to get hold of it the second time, I guess.

CC: Did you find any debris to float on?

Will: I was actually swimming toward some when the cleaning table that mounts over the main hatch to the fish hold popped up, when I saw that automatically I just went for it, climbed on top and looked around. I could see Dennis was over by the boat. And they got hold of him and started yarding him in. I was looking around and Darby the whole time I’m yelling “grab something, stay up” and Darby got managed to get hold of a buoy and started swimming towards the boat that had hit us. By then they had turned around, while I was on the hatch cover I yelled at them they were asking Dennis “were there anybody else” where are they or something, and he’s saying, “yeah, they’re kinda over there somewhere.” You know the captain of the vessle kind of swung the boat around where I guess they could see u and guess they heard me over there and found us in the light. When I saw them approaching us I slid off the hatch cover and started swimming towards the vessel. I got there they were kind of coming towards us real slow, they got me out and I turned around to make sure Darby was getting up there, because he was kind of behind me the way the vessel was approaching. It got to the point where I didn’t know if I was going to get into the water or not. Or not but he got up to the boat okay. He got him the life ring, he grabbed it and we yarded him in. and it took the three of us to get him on the boat. We got him in where it was warm. And everybody got in okay except for his son, Darby’s son, Kelly and those guys got wrapped up in their bunks, and I went immediately upstairs to assist the captain in anyway I could. Because I was wide awake, coherent, adrenaline rushed out, everything it had happened so fast.

CC: How much time went by until you were on board?

Will: A matter of minutes. Those guys reacted, they did everything on cue, I couldn’t say anything better about the guys. They were right there. Even though they were the ones who hit us, they were right there for us. They were headed for Westport, we were sleeping at the time. I just had to go to the bathroom and happened to get up at the time

CC: That was pretty fortunate that happened, pretty fateful.

Will: I guess, I guess.

CC: Was it pretty foggy out there?

It was foggy as hell, it was pea soup.

CC: when you first hit the water could you see the Viking Storm at all?

Will: Yeah, we could see the lights, they weren’t too far from us. and everything they weren’t too far from us. They were close enough and well enough lit and we didn’t have a problem getting there. The guy running the vessel did it right, he did it right, he did everything he could, he go on top of us and got us out CC: How long before the Coast Guard got out there?

Will: I couldn’t honestly tell you. I think it was within an hour, to an hour and a half.

CC: They took you aboard a cutter?

Will: We were on the Viking Storm for a while. The Coast Guard sent choppers out. First one couldn’t get to us to get us off on an airlift because it was too foggy, and you know I think they did a search pattern, not really sure, before they came back to us. They ended up having to go in because they were getting low and fuel and they had another chopper en-route, was what they were saying. We Had the Quillayute Station out there, pretty sure Neah Bay came out. Everybody close to us got to us. They’re still out there looking for Kelly.

CC: Did you have any heavy thoughts out there, or did it happen so quick you didn’t have time to think?

Will: It was like the light was there, next thing you know, when I told Darby to hit it, I didn’t see any lights until I turned back around. I looked, you could see the glare of the lights. I was thinking “freighter, freighter…freighter, freighter.” I thought we were gone, but it was a dragger, a Canadian dragger that was worked by some American guys. I don’t know what the circumstances were. They were en-route to Westport when they hit us.

CC: have you ever been in tight situations on the ocean like that before?

Will: Not that tight.

CC: You’re saying it was like it was seconds, or a fraction of a minute difference between life and death?

Will: It happened so fast that it was slow motion kind of I would say a minute and a half or less. It was life and death.

CC: Will you be going back out fishing again?

Will: I suppose, got to get back out on the horse and ride. I just want to thank everybody who got us out of the water. They obviously bring us home.

CC: You’re an experienced surfer?

Will: That helped some in the ocean, definitely helped. I’d already been wet in the cabin when I got the door open to get us out, I knew the water was cold, I knew it was going to be cold…You can expect that. It’s Hard to describe. If you know your situation and you don’t panic you know you’re going to go a lot farther than you would if you didn’t. Thank God nobody lost it, everybody was of sound mind and body. They did everything they had to do. Dennis went down for Kelly several times while I was trying to get out and up on top to get those guys out. it just didn’t work as far as Kelly goes, we got out. I hope Kelly made it out somehow.