Viewers of the Discovery Channel’s reality TV series “Deadliest Catch,” frequently hear about deckhand accidents on crab fishing vessels. Although most incidents involve minor scratches, bumps and bruises, crew members whom the show follows during two crab fishing seasons per year in Alaska’s Bering Sea since 2005, can make up to $170,000 a year for a reason – the boat crew is in constant danger during their long workdays.
Deckhands do the most hazardous jobs, starting with pulling the crab cage, called crab pots, from the cold water, which can weigh up to 800lbs or 363kgs. They must see that it reaches the boat’s storage and unload it with thousands of crabs snapping their pincers before rushing to pull another crab pot. Simultaneously, they must dodge their colleagues and the next crab pot moving across the deck while the boat shakes, and waves keep coming. Commercial fishing is among the jobs with the highest mortality and injury rates, with about 140 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2006, which rose to roughly 300 deaths per 100,000 workers for Alaskan crab fishermen.
That bit of information makes it more surprising that the “Deadliest Catch” viewers don’t see and hear about more tragic accidents and deaths every year. That’s encouraging newcomers and a testament to safety precautions, excellent emergency medical care, solid training and leadership from the captain, and the mental focus. However, such incidents are inevitable, and listed the most notable ones in the 18 years the show has aired.
- 1 Deckhands should be paid more
- 2 Two Ocean Challenger deckhands
- 3 Justin Tennison
- 4 Travis Lofland
- 5 David “Beaver” Zielinski
- 6 Unnamed deckhand
- 7 Deckhands aboard Eagle III
- 8 Four F/V Destination deckhands
- 9 Roger Schlosstein
- 10 Luce
- 11 Cody Rhodes
- 12 Mahlon Reyes
- 13 Norman Hansen
- 14 Pascual Ganuelas and Todd Gateman
- 15 Nick Mavar Jr.
- 16 Todd Kochutin
- 17 Francis Katungin
- 18 Devon Davis
- 19 Cameron
Deckhands should be paid more
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for anglers and hunters was about $30,000 in 2017. Most people will realize how low that is, as Alaska’s minimum wage was about $10 per hour that year. It’s true that deckhands work roughly three to six months of the year during two fishing seasons, however, the cost of one mistake to their health, the constant mental and physical fatigue, the required skill, and the responsibility warrant a somewhat higher salary.
Nearly all deckhands featured in “Deadliest Catch” were injured similarly; a crab pot smashed into them, or they slipped and fell or slashed themselves with a sharp object. Sadly, some died or couldn’t work on the boat after their recovery. Here’s who they are.
Two Ocean Challenger deckhands
One of the earliest tragic accidents featured in “Deadliest Catch” happened a year after the show’s debut, aired on TV during the third season, which premiered in April 2007. News surfaced on 18 October 2006 that the commercial F/V (fishing vessel) Ocean Challenger, 58 feet or 17.5 meters long, had been found capsized about 90 miles or 145 kilometers south of Sand Point, Alaska.
According to the US Coast Guard, the waves were 6 meters or 20 feet high, and the wind blew at 25 knots. Therefore, the four men on board were caught by surprise while they fished for black cod close to Sanak Islands. While the deckhands deployed a life raft, the waves quickly overwhelmed them, throwing them into the relatively cold sea, which the US Coast Guard said was roughly 45 degrees Fahrenheit or 7 degrees Celsius.
Two skippers, Walter Foster, and David “Cowboy” Hasselquist, were immediately found deceased. Deckhand Steve Esparza was missing for a while but was found dead. The only survivor, 28-year-old deckhand Kevin Ferrell, wore a survival suit during the disaster, so he persevered for about an hour before the rescue helicopter arrived. The medics transported him to Cold Bay Clinic in Alaska, and he recovered at a hospital in Anchorage afterwards. Kevin spoke about his experience in the 2012 episode of the spin-off, “Deadliest Catch: Inside the Catch.”
Unlike the two deckhands mentioned above, Justin Tennison, whom the audience saw in the seventh season aboard F/V Time Bandit, died in his sleep on solid ground. Justin was ecstatic when he finished the February 2011 fishing season, and wanted to celebrate it with his crewmates at a harbor hotel in Homer, Alaska.
Unfortunately, Justin stopped replying to texts and picking up calls the following day, 22 February. Police officers entered the room and discovered Justin unresponsive. They found marijuana, beer, and other liquor, so they assumed that an unfortunate mix or overconsumption led to his passing. However, his autopsy revealed that he died from complications of his sleep apnea.
His cousin Eddie reported that Justin died at 33, leaving a father, sister, and grandparents behind. Eddie also revealed that Justin wanted to be cremated, and that his family should spread his ashes in Alaska, which his cousin promised to arrange.
While Travis Lofland’s accident didn’t look scary, it was indeed. It was depicted as somewhat funny, as F/V Time Bandit was in dock in the Dutch Harbor, Alaska, during season eight’s finale in 2012. He was helping on the deck when he slipped and fell overboard. The crew yelled, ‘Man overboard!’ and everyone rushed to see him swimming in the cold Alaskan waters. He was in pain and in danger of hypothermia but recovered without permanent damage. However, Travis said that falling off the boat opened his eyes, and that he quit being a fisherman and moved to Sarasota, Florida.
David “Beaver” Zielinski
It’s hard to forget David “Beaver” Zielinski, as his unfortunate accident was well-documented and had legal consequences. He was injured in January 2013 while attempting to let-off fireworks to celebrate how Seattle Seahawks performed in their NFL playoff game. Instead of going off into the air or towards nearby F/V Cape Caution, the fireworks, branded by F/V Time Bandit that he worked on, exploded in his hands, and left bone sticking out of his finger.
He was quickly taken to Dutch Harbor, then had a surgical operation in Seattle, Washington State. David later sued F/V Time Bandit owners, accusing them of wanting to shoot explosives to make the moment more dramatic for the show, and trying to cover-up his injury. The Judge awarded David $1.4 million in 2017, as he could no longer work as a commercial fisherman.
In the ninth season of “Deadliest Catch,” the one that deals with the aftermath of the fireworks accident, another deckhand badly injured his hand. The unnamed crew member was working when his glove got stuck in the bait grinder and pulled him in. He couldn’t reach the shut-off switch and began screaming, but by the time another deckhand turned the machine off, his hand had been shredded. US Coast Guard airlifted him to the hospital, where they saw that two of his fingers were bent at a 90-degree angle, and had to be amputated.
In a terrifying moment on deck, everyone drops what they’re doing to make sure their fellow deckhand is okay. #DeadliestCatch is on tonight at 8p ET on Discovery and streaming on discovery+.
Posted by Deadliest Catch on Wednesday, May 25, 2022
Deckhands aboard Eagle III
Only viewers of the “Deadliest Catch: Dungeon Cove” spin-off know of the demise of three crew members of F/V Eagle III, and the survival of her captain. The show’s third episode documented what happened on 19 January 2016, when the storm hit the ship in Coos Bay, Alaska. Winds of 30mph or 48kmh and waves as high as 3 meters or 10 feet quickly capsized the vessel.
Three crew members died, presumably all deckhands and the skipper – Danny Matlock, Josh Paulus and Blaine Steinmetz. Glenn Burkhow, the ship’s captain and John’s father-in-law, somehow survived and swam to shore. That’s when Glenn realized that his ordeal was far from over, as he had to walk 7 kilometers or 4.5 miles to the nearest civilization while he was battered, thirsty, freezing, and hungry.
Four F/V Destination deckhands
Another terrifying accident claimed the lives of six crew members of F/V Destination in February 2017. Their unfortunate story was the topic of the 18th episode of the 13th season of “Deadliest Catch,” entitled “Lost at Sea.” Although the film crew luckily wasn’t present when the ship capsized, they followed with the rescuers who tried to locate and save them.
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F/V Destination was late, and the captain, Jeff Hathaway, urged his crew to hurry to deliver roughly 200 crab pots when they became stuck in ice. The urgency and, what would later prove to be inaccurate information about the vessel’s capabilities from the owner, led the captain to order the crew to keep going. Unfortunately, the US Coast Guard later determined that roughly 340,000lbs or 170 tons of weight pressured the vessel at one point, so the disproportionate weight threw it off balance. Besides the captain, four deckhands and engineer Charles “Glenn” Jones, were on the ship. Three were young deckhands, Darrik Seibold, Kai Hamik, and Ray Vincler, while Larry O’Grady was the vessel’s senior deckhand.
Most people remember Roger Schlosstein for his bad luck. He was initially injured in June 2017, when a rope holding the full crab pot slipped out of his hands while running the block, smashing his hand into the ship’s railing. His hand became badly bruised and numb, but he eventually recovered. When he was ready, Captain Keith Colburn sent him to work at the sorting table, which he felt was a much safer position. Unfortunately, in the 11th episode of the 10th season, another crab pot separated itself from the ropes and smashed into what seemed like his neck. Thankfully, Roger got up and reported that the crab pot struck him between his butt cheeks and lower back, so he wasn’t crippled, only in pain.
A new deckhand, only known as Luce, joined F/V Saga in August 2017 and almost immediately regretted his decision. Captain Jake Anderson told Luce to stack and tie empty crab pots, which he did well. However, he seemingly missed a step, as it was dark and the waves were powerful, and fell backwards about 15 feet or roughly 5 meters. He landed on his head and his side, which gave him a concussion, so he began vomiting and experiencing dizziness and a headache. Thankfully, he seemed unhurt otherwise, so the captain picked up the last 60 crab pots instead of rushing Luce the hospital.
Cody Rhodes suffered perhaps the most gruesome injury in “Deadliest Catch” history in September 2019, during the season 15 finale. He was dumping the crab pot on F/V Kari Marie, which was exceptionally heavy at 1000lbs or 453kgs. He went too far to clean the pot, which flipped and fell onto his left leg, twisting flesh and bone, creating a spiral fracture of his tibia and fibula. In layman’s terms, the crab pot bent his left leg sideways, leaving his foot sticking out at a 90-degree angle from the rest of his body, a sight that made everyone cringe. Since the weather prevented the boat from arriving, US Coast Guard sent a helicopter, and Cody was loaded onto the stretcher and hoisted up in the air. He later explained that he relaxed because the season was almost over; the crew only had 10 pots to empty when the disaster happened.
Mahlon Reyes gained renown as a loyal, hard-working deckhand who helped fishing vessels Cape Caution and Seabroke operate. Most fans remember the moment he tore his Achilles tendon in 2020. Mahlon couldn’t move, saying that ‘it felt like somebody hit him in the back of the leg with a crowbar,’ prompting Captain Bill Wichrowski to step in and help, and the production to stop filming for a while.
Sadly, Mahlon died away from the boat on 25 July 2020. He left life at sea to recover from the tendon injury, and enjoyed the off-season in his hometown of Whitefish, Montana State. While the news about his death broke on 1 August, the viewers had to speculate what happened until early January the following year.
According to the coroner, Mahlon died from a sudden heart attack, following a cocaine overdose, which was accidental. Mahlon survived the heart attack, but then spent some time on life support before his family took him off, as he hadn’t regained consciousness since the accident.
Captain Sig Hansen’s brother Norman worked as a deckhand in the seventh episode of the 15h season, aboard F/V Northwestern in 2020. However, he injured himself before they left the harbor; he was maintaining the boat and somehow slipped, fell, and hit his head on the way down. Norman was knocked unconscious and turned blue, and began experiencing a seizure. Luckily, the vessel was docked, so he received medical help immediately. Although he pulled through without permanent consequences, he had to skip that fishing season to recover.
Pascual Ganuelas and Todd Gateman
Not many fans have heard of the super snow moon phenomenon, but “Deadliest Catch” cast members know its impact. It happens when an orbital perigee coincides with a full moon, which increases the gravity pull intensifies the currents. That happened in late August 2020, creating 50 feet or 15 meters high waves and 50-knot winds. Some captains, such as F/V Saga’s Jake Anderson, returned to port. Other vessels, such as F/V Wizard, continued operating.
That proved dangerous, as 35 feet or 11 meters high wave hit the deckhand Pascual “O.J.” Ganuelas, smashing his right leg into a steel pot. Another wave of the same height also hit deckhand Todd Gateman shortly after. However, he was far unluckier, as the wave freed a coiler weighing 400lbs or 181kgs from its bolts, which pinned Todd’s right leg. Pascual recovered and returned to work, while Todd did not. Although there was no news, the ship’s captain was frightened by the injury, and predicted that Todd wouldn’t return for a while, if ever.
Nick Mavar Jr.
Fans may remember that Nick Mavar Jr. broke his nose aboard F/V Northwestern in one of the episodes. His injury didn’t receive the medical care required, which was partially his fault. Sig Hansen, the ship’s captain said, ‘Nick kept working. When we got home, I had to buy him a new nose. Is it going to be a George Clooney? A Brad Pitt? We didn’t know what we were going to buy him.’
However, that injury, while somewhat gruesome, was mild compared to his later issues. In December 2022, Nick filed a lawsuit against the owners of F/V Northwestern, the show’s producers, and medical care providers, alleging that his ruptured appendix had a cancerous tumor that he didn’t know existed.
Nick accused them of not sending him for more check-ups, or performing the examinations to find cancer after his appendix ruptured aboard the vessel in December 2020. He asked for $1 million in damages for the delay, as doctors would have removed his appendix, eliminating months of cancer treatments, rupture, and abdominal surgical operation if they’d acted appropriately and quickly. F/V Northwestern owners filed a countersuit in May 2023, blaming the COVID-19 protocols for the situation.
Todd Kochutin, who died at 30 on 26 February 2021, was the first deckhand whose death happened on board a ship while the cameras were rolling. Although the unfortunate moment wasn’t filmed, the call for help and the immediate aftermath were. The segment aired in the 18th season, and showed people at home how dangerous the job was.
Todd had been working aboard F/V Patricia Lee and was doing relatively well that day, considering how hectic the day was. However, his focus waned for a fraction of a second while the full crab pot, weighing 700lbs to 800lbs or 317kgs to 363kgs, was being transported, and it crashed into him. Todd survived the impact, but was in agonizing pain. While the crewmembers nearby tried to ease his suffering, they couldn’t move him until the medical staff approved.
Captain Bill Wichrowski radioed for help, and the medic arrived and began administering aid. However, it was evident that they couldn’t do much without rapid access to a hospital. Consequently, the viewers sadly heard Todd take his last breath. Todd was buried on 22 March on Saint Paul Island at the Saint Peter and Paul Orthodox Church. He had no living close family members; his parents, Robert and Deanna, and siblings, Ayla and Dwayne, preceded him in death.
Francis Katungin continued the harrowing trend of death or near-death experiences in front of cameras that Todd, through no fault of his own, started. As in Todd’s case, there were no indications that an accident would happen, and the incident was over in a second. Francis had been working near a crab pot during season 18’s second episode in April 2022, when a rogue wave crashed into F/V Patricia Lee, upsetting the boat’s balance. The crab pots, estimated to weigh 2000lbs or 900kgs, swung and pinned Francis into the railing, prompting everyone nearby, including Captain Rip Carlton and people behind the cameras, to rush to his aid.
Francis was luckier than Todd; his injuries weren’t fatal, although he broke his hip and pelvis. To his dismay, the Arctic storm and distance from the shore prevented a quick intervention. Francis was immobilized for about 16 hours at sea before the US Coast Guard sent a helicopter to evacuate him. Unfortunately, there were no updates about his condition except that he survived.
Despite the immense efforts of the shop’s captain, F/V Patricia Lee seemed cursed after Francis narrowly escaped death. Rip employed a new deckhand, Devon Davis, as a replacement. While the timing forced him to settle for a greenhorn, or a rookie, Rip was hopeful, saying, ‘It’s our redemption trip. We will try to get through it without anything happening.’ He then told Devon that ‘safety was the most important thing, so he should do his best not to get hurt, as it was his first time on the boat.’
Sadly, Devon had an accident in May, shortly after the boat left the harbor. The filming crew didn’t catch the moment it happened, leaving some questions unanswered, but the team reported that something hit him in the head.
Devon survived but was knocked unconscious, and spitting blood when he woke up, meaning that an empty crab pot likely dealt a strong blow to his head, giving him a concussion. Although there were no public updates, the show’s viewers found Devon’s private Facebook profile, on which he posted pictures from a fishing trip to Alaska.
When F/V Patricia Lee ran into rough water in the 14th episode of season 18, Captain Rip couldn’t rush in to help his deckhand, Cameron, when the fierce waves caused him to stab and slice his thumb with his knife. In Francis’ case, the show’s producer, Todd Stanley, who usually stays behind the camera, had to stitch Cameron up to prevent further bleeding and infection. Although it wasn’t serious, his injury was incredibly bloody and a recent reminder of how unpredictable deck life aboard a crab fishing vessel is.