Fishing vessel (FV) Summer Bay, commanded by Captain “Wild” Bill Wichrowski, debuted in the sixth season of “Deadliest Catch.” The reality TV show follows commercial crab fishermen battling dangerous conditions aboard vessels during two yearly fishing seasons on Alaska’s Bering Sea. Summer Bay, which weighs 196 gross tons, measures 100 x 28ft (32 by 8 meters) and was built in 1981, has had many fail safes installed over decades. However, the boat carries tens of empty and full cages, called crab pots, and regularly transports them across the deck from the sea to the ship’s storage. Several deckhands are always milling around, leaning over the rails, retrieving and launching cages, and communicating with crew members and the captain.
Therefore, a brief lack of mental focus can have disastrous consequences. The show’s off-camera narrator, Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” TV show fame, frequently mentions that full crab pots often weigh 800lbs or 363kgs, and that they can maim or kill a crew member if they strike a delicate spot. Moreover, the deckhands are working under gale-force winds, high waves, in slippery conditions, and for long hours. The captains of about 40 vessels who regularly appeared in the show also had to worry about two-person filming crews staying full-time.
Such crew members were equal to ‘greenhorns,’ the name given to newcomers or rookies who are unco-ordinated, stressed, pressured to perform efficiently, and unused to being away from home. Although captains keep a watchful eye on everyone, accidents and deaths are bound to happen under those conditions, and F/V Summer Bay is no exception. After all, Original Productions filmed 19 seasons of “Deadliest Catch” for Discovery Channel between 2005 and 2023 – here’s who died or nearly lost their life on the boat.
The death toll isn’t high
The USA Bureau of Labor Statistics named commercial fishing one of the most dangerous jobs in the country in 2006. They ranked its fatality rate at 141.7 per 100,000 people, a 75% increase compared to the mortality rate of flight engineers, loggers and pilots, the occupations next in line. However, the data for Alaskan crab fishing shows an even scarier picture; there were more than 300 deaths per 100,000 people in 2005, most caused by hypothermia and drowning.
With that information in mind, “Deadliest Catch” viewers could expect to hear about or witness many more accidents and deaths. Thankfully, the captains are experienced with life in a physically and mentally taxing environment, and advised producers from the get-go. Additionally, the US introduced the Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) system, which assigns a limit of crabs based on the vessel’s dimensions, weight, and crew size. That allowed captains to organize their fishing, making things cheaper and more efficient, yet prevented overfishing and unreasonable demands from crewmates.
Sadly, there is a record of deaths of Summer Bay crew members. However, most died on another boat or solid ground from causes unrelated to Captain Bill’s orders or the ship’s daily operations.
Spencer fell overboard in 2018
Captain Bill vividly remembers when the deckhand Spencer Moore made a rookie mistake in season 14. Despite the captain’s orders to hold on to solid objects when the boat is in choppy waters and being rocked by powerful waves and currents, Spencer’s focus waned. In the fifth episode, the greenhorn struggled to attach the crab pot to the ship’s block when a rushing current swept him from the deck. Thankfully, Spencer somehow grabbed a buoy before he fell over the railing, so he stayed afloat in 34 Fahrenheit or 1 Celsius temperature and freezing water.
Awesome crew Spencer Moore pic.twitter.com/MRJuHVhndP
— Bill Wichrowski (@captwildbill) January 30, 2018
Thankfully, the crew threw him a life ring and pulled him out before he drowned or suffered hypothermia. Although the incident happened in 2018, it stayed with Captain Bill. He told PopCulture magazine that he hadn’t been afraid for about 25 years before that fishing season, and that he’d fished under way worse conditions, but that everything went wrong that day. He added, ‘I get choked up talking about that. I’ve done this for 40-something years and never had a man in the water. So that was pretty hairy. I can still see him going over the side.’
2020 started terribly for Mahlon
Joseph “Mahlon” Reyes, born in Whitefish, Montana State, US, died unexpectedly at 38 on 27 July 2020. Most viewers remember him as a greenhorn deckhand aboard F/V Seabrooke, the vessel captained by Scott Campbell Jr., introduced in season seven. Mahlon debuted in the fourth episode of the eighth season. He was reasonably popular, but only returned to the show in the 10th season as a deckhand on F/V Cape Caution, another vessel captained by Bill Wichrowski.
However, what made him hard to forget was his gruesome accident halfway through season 16, when he suddenly dropped to the floor in agonizing pain. He was moving aboard Summer Bay when he twisted his foot or slipped, tearing his Achilles tendon. Mahlon described the pain ‘as if somebody hit him in the back of his leg with a crowbar.’ Thankfully, everybody, including medical professionals, swooped in, picked him up, and he received the necessary emergency aid.
Mahlon died in July
Mahlon left “Deadliest Catch” after episode 14 to recover from his tendon injury in his hometown. Sadly, leaving Summer Bay and familiar surroundings led to a tragic outcome. Mahlon was found unconscious but alive on 25 July, taken to the hospital on suspicion of heart attack, and put on life support. That surprised his family, who claimed that he’d had no pre-existing heart-related conditions.
Although the family remained hopeful, Mahlon never regained consciousness, so they decided to take him off life support. His wife revealed that he took his last breath shortly after midnight, in the early hours of 27 July. TMZ confirmed his death later that day, but the news reached the broader public on 1 August. Moreover, the coroner only revealed the cause of his death in January of next year: an accidental cocaine overdose that caused a heart attack.
Mahlon is survived by his wife and four children. His wife stated that he was cremated and that his “Deadliest Catch” colleagues threw some of his ashes into the Bering Sea. Weirdly, Mahlon is not listed as ‘In Memory’ on the Summer Bay page on the www.captwildbill.com website, but Nick is. Thankfully, the official F/V Summer Bay Facebook page, presumably administrated by Bill, corrected the mistake with a post about remembering the two crewmates this August.
REST IN PEACE: Mahlon Reyes, who worked as a deckhand on the show "Deadliest Catch", has died of a heart attack at the age of 38. He leaves behind his wife and four children. STORY: https://bit.ly/3k0Y0FU
Nick McGlashan joined in 2013
Nick McGlashan died only half a year after Mahlon, and publicly mourned his ship brother’s death, posting pictures of them having a great time aboard Summer Bay. Thus, viewers speculated whether the stressful work on the ship contributed to their spiral into drug use, and if the captain should have seen it coming. Nick admittedly had a history of substance abuse, and never blamed anyone for his troubles. He was a seventh-generation fisherman who carried his uncle’s name.
Nick began crab fishing at 13, so he had plenty of experience when he joined “Deadliest Catch” in 2013. He appeared in nearly 80 episodes before his death, and was a deckhand aboard Cape Caution from season nine, but gained more prominence as a deck boss aboard Summer Bay around season 17. Viewers also remembered Nick for his trademark red raincoat.
Although he handled the substances without adverse effects, being under the influence eventually affected his work output and relationships. Therefore, Discovery Channel suspended him as a cast member for half of season 13. Discovery Channel’s biography explained his departure, ‘Although he’s had ups and downs, Nick has battled endlessly to stay sober and embrace a new sober lifestyle, and is now so committed to his recovery that he inspires others.’
He also died in 2020
After the forced pause, Nick admitted that it was a necessary wake-up call. In the May 2017 article “The Deadliest Disease” for Chosen Magazine, he confessed that he’d reached his worst point before the hiatus. He revealed that he drank about two liters of vodka and took 2 grams of heroin and 1 gram of meth daily. Even worse, Nick said that he’d overdosed on three occasions, and that ‘he became a full-blown junkie from a Bering Sea badass, and that his passion for life was gone.’ He acknowledged that he was at war with his addiction, which consumed his spirit, mind and body, and that he welcomed death at one point. Thankfully, Nick completed a rehabilitation program in September 2016 and claimed that he was sober afterwards, so he returned to filming “Deadliest Catch” in June 2017 after Captain Bill gave him a second chance.
Unfortunately, he lost the battle again, and the employees of the Holiday Inn hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, found him dead in his room’s bathroom on 27 December 2020. He died aged 33 – the police officers reported drug paraphernalia on and about his body. Forensic Medical Management of Nashville later said that a toxic mix of fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine in his blood caused his untimely passing. The show honored Nick’s life with a two-hour episode in June 2021 focused on Captain Bill and Captain Sig Hansen of the nearby F/V Northwestern and the two boat’s crews. The special follows the events dating to December, starting with when people received the call with the news. It highlights the initial shock, and ends with the weepy celebration of Nick’s life and his influence on others.
The episode ended optimistically; the crew and captains gathered to throw Nick’s hook into the water for the final time and set off many flares, causing a loud and bright light show. Captain Bill said that ‘Nick can see them and will always be with them, but that he lost a trusted friend, an outstanding employee, and a brother in life.’ The crew also told the viewers that Nick left two children behind, and that they would offer them help. Nick’s sister Lydia set up a GoFundMe page, asking fans for donations for their mother, June, who would presumably care for the children.
Todd Kochutin lost his life in 2021
Unlike Nick and Mahlon, Todd Kochutin died aboard a ship, although not Summer Bay. However, he was in touch with Captain Bill and had many friends aboard the vessel. Todd started his career as a greenhorn deckhand on Summer Bay, when the audience first saw him in two episodes in 2020. Todd mentioned ‘that he loved playing the guitar, video games, and fishing.’
Another memorable but bone-chilling detail is that Nick McGlashan gave Todd work boots in the first of those two episodes, telling him that he was replacing a guy who wore pretty big boots. Viewers concluded that the boots belonged to Mahlon Reyes based on the timing, and thought Nick’s statement was also symbolic. Todd was confident that he could fill those shoes, literally and metaphorically, and replied, ‘I’m going to do my best; that’s what I’m here to do.’
Todd performed excellently, and moved to F/V Patricia Lee for the early 2021 fishing season. The workday started smoothly, but a decreased focus during a hectic day led to an unspeakable tragedy. His obituary, printed in the Anchorage Daily News and published online, revealed that ‘Todd died at 30 on 26 February 2021 from injuries sustained while on board the ship.’ However, while the camera did not capture the moment of his demise, the aftermath was filmed and raised some concerns.
His cause of death is disputed
The viewers can see Captain Bill and Captain Sig Hansen radioing with Patricia Lee’s crew after several crew members demanded immediate medical help for a severely injured deckhand. A medical professional arrived swiftly, but Bill immediately sensed something and said that ‘he truly hoped it wasn’t Todd.’ He remained hopeful because the ship, which he called “Patty” Lee, has a medevac, the medical evacuation system connected to the US Coast Guard in Alaska. It allows a swift transfer from the ship to the hospital, mainly by helicopter. While they waited, Landon Chenney, Summer Bay’s deck boss, sent Todd a text to ask about the situation, telling the cameras that he cannot lose any more friends, referring to Nick.
At last, Landon gets the news that Tood was injured and didn’t make it. He reports them to Bill, who asks the camera crew to stop following him and says, ‘Todd’s death is a cold hard reminder of what can happen. He was a good deckhand.’ Sig Hansen concluded that one or more crab pots hit Todd, which, as mentioned, can weigh up to 800lbs or 363kg apiece. However, the circumstances were never clarified, prompting one Reddit user, Beringcvet86, to share his story. He allegedly worked with Todd on Summer Bay but wasn’t there when the tragedy happened.
However, he reportedly heard from his former colleagues that Todd was squeezed between a pole and a sorting table. He added that the crew member in charge of hydraulics forgot to check if anyone was there before he retracted the table to the sort position, crushing Todd. Whether people believe the hearsay is irrelevant; Todd was a young guy who suffered excruciating pain, and his demise could have been avoided. His fans can still see his Instagram account, @that_guy_two_stroke. Todd was buried at the St. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church on St. Paul Island on 22 March 2021, suggesting that his death was investigated for a month. He was preceded in death by his sister Ayla, brother Dwayne, and parents Deanna and Robert.
A close call in 2021
Many recent viewers surely remember that the entire crew of Summer Bay nearly ended up in freezing water twice in the season 17 finale. Although the events aired on 21 September 2021, the incident happened a few months before, around the time of Todd’s passing, making the impact heavier. The episode started with Captain Bill hoping to beat high waves and stormy weather to bring in 165,000lbs or 82.5 tons of wild cold for a hefty payday.
However, the storm caught them on the way, and Bill yelled, ‘Yeah, we’re trying to abort here. I need to turn around, f*ck this! Hang on!’ That’s when the high waves, one particularly tall one, washed over the deck and began flipping the boat to one side. Crew members were strewn about and hung-on tightly as the camera captured loud groans of the ship’s metal structure, and water relentlessly seeping into the boat’s interior.
Although the waves kept rocking Summer Bay, none seemed as powerful as the one that nearly capsized it. After the worst was over, Bill asked over the radio, ‘I think we’re safe. Is everybody on board?’ After minutes that seemed like hours, all crew members responded. However, they concluded that this was a storm that they would mention for years, as it scattered paperwork, food, equipment, and various gadgets. The crew secured the load, and Summer Bay nearly reached the harbor. However, that’s when Bill heard a cabin alarm that signified that the forward bilge was rapidly filling with water. A deckhand investigated and discovered a massive hole in the ship’s void, the negative space that helps keep the boat afloat. Thankfully, the crew got to work, patched the gap, and prevented Summer Bay from sinking, so the ship docked and unloaded its cargo.