The icy waters of the Bering Sea have long been acknowledged as a dangerous zone, where brave souls embark on a perilous quest for the much-coveted Alaskan king crab and snow crab. Amidst the rough waves and freezing winds, a thrilling reality television series called “Deadliest Catch” evolved, which captured the interest of audiences worldwide sfrom its debut in 2005. This epic TV series delved into the lives of commercial crab fishermen, and also documented some fatal sinking disasters and personal struggles, which shocked viewers and other cast members as well.

“Deadliest Catch” – How did it all start?

The reality TV series came from the creative mind of former Turner Broadcasting producer Thom Beers who was obsessed with the enthralling world of crab fishing in Alaska. The executive producer pitched it to several networks, and after many rejections, took matters into his own hands by making a pilot episode using his own resources. His team recorded everything that went on aboard Rick Quashnick’s F/V Maverick including the hits and misses. The streaming and cable giant, Discovery Channel, saw the potential in this genuine portrayal, and acquired the series. The “Deadliest Catch” premiered its first season in April 2005, and left viewers and critics alike impressed with its tension, emotion, and compelling reality.

“Deadliest Catch” – The TV series’ premise

Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” takes its viewers into the gritty existence of Bering Sea fishermen, chronicling their journeys during the October king crab season and the January opilio crab season. The Aleutian Islands port of Dutch Harbor, situated in Alaska, served as the central hub for the fishing fleet’s operations. Amidst this challenging backdrop, crew members faced perilous trials on the deck of a boat, maneuvering through hundreds of pounds of crab caught inside heavy steel crab pots. The show also went into the intricate stories and circumstances unfolding across multiple boats. It offered a window into the unique camaraderie shared between captains and their crew members, and at the same time showed the fierce competition that drove each of them to strive harder for the ultimate catch – the highest number of crabs.

 “Deadliest Catch” – The Cast

The reality TV series featured a rotating cast of captains and crew members, many boasting tales of triumph and tragedy. Among the legends are Sig Hansen, the fiery and competitive co-owner of the F/V Northwestern; Johnathan Hillstrand, the adventurous co-captain of F/V Time Bandit; Keith Colburn, the disciplined captain of F/V Wizard; Jake Anderson, the tenacious captain of F/V Saga; and Phil Harris, the beloved captain of F/V Cornelia Marie along with his sons.

The legendary captains were joined by multiple crew members and would sometimes shine a spotlight on the greenhorns or the newest members of the fleet. With over 20 distinct boats and 40 captains featured in the span of 18 seasons, the reality show celebrated the bravery and tenacity of those who dared to confront the deadliest of catches. Producers of “Deadliest Catch” could vouch for the crew members’ courage and often cautioned any cameraman aspiring to join the production that the job wasn’t for the fainthearted. Thom Beers even mentioned that they would arrange roundtrip tickets for the entire crew in case someone back out at the last minute, as they would never force anyone to be on the boat.

Interesting scandals in “Deadliest Catch”

“Deadliest Catch” became quite popular, but some of its cast members were embroiled in legal disputes, which brought to light the complexities and challenges of reality TV, including issues related to contracts, and medical emergencies during filming.

David Zielinsky vs Time Bandit

In 2013, a deckhand named David Zielinsky from F/V Time Bandit had an accident during a prank. He was ordered by his captain to light a mortar-style firework targeting F/V Cape Caution. Unfortunately, the firework unexpectedly exploded while it was still in his hand. As a result, his right hand and arm were severely damaged, with shattered bones. David was rushed to a hospital, and underwent multiple surgeries to have his hand reconstructed. A lawsuit was then filed against the Hillstrand Brothers, owners of the Time Bandit, asking for compensation. The court papers showed that the lawyers for the fishing vessel argued that David only had ‘little lasting economic damage from the explosion’ as he completely recovered from it and had already found work in a sheet metal factory.

David’s lawyer said that Captain Hillstrand violated a law to protect maritime workers when he suggested using a huge quantity of fireworks aboard the fishing vessel. In 2019, after a lengthy trial, the jury awarded David half of the $2.7 million he was seeking for compensation for the injuries that he acquired as they believed he was also partially responsible for the accident.

Elliot Neese’s legal issues

The former captain of fishing vessels, Ramblin’ Rose and Saga, Elliott Neese, has been making headlines since he joined “Deadliest Catch” during the seventh season. His argumentative personality was such a goldmine to the reality TV series, but his notoriety wasn’t reserved just in front of the camera. In 2011, he was fined for catching undersized crabs instead of returning them back to the sea to reach maturity. His original fine of $6,000 was reduced by half after pleading guilty to the court, but he didn’t learn from his mistake, as he was found to commit the same violation in 2014. As a result, he was fired from the show by Discovery Channel, but later claiming that everything about the reality series was fake, and all the dramatic content that aired was scripted.

With his colorful personality, some fans were hoping that he would be back on the show. However, in 2019, he encountered a bigger problem than catching undersized crabs – the police found out that he was part of a drug ring selling heroin in Alaska. He entered a plea deal and had been cooperating with the police. In 2022, the federal court sentenced him to be imprisoned for two and a half years at the Sheridan Federal Prison in Oregon.

The sad and deplorable lives of the Harris Brothers

The fans couldn’t help but shake their heads at the tragic events that happened to Josh and Jake Harris. They were supposed to continue the legacy left by their father, Captain Phil Harris. However, both had run-ins with the law that they spent time in jail.

In Jake’s case, he already had problems with drug abuse even when Phil was still alive. He was convinced by his father to get help and he willingly entered a rehab. It seemed that he cleaned up and everything was smooth sailing again. However, shortly after his father’s death in February 2010, he was arrested for DUI. In 2016, news surfaced of him being beaten and robbed, followed by an arrest a year later for drug possession and vehicle theft. In 2019, a police chase led to his arrest; Jake didn’t want his vehicle to be inspected by the police so he fled the scene. Later on, he was charged with resistance, disobedience, heroin possession, and a stolen firearm. After spending almost two years in prison, he continued to make bad decisions, and was busted for DUI again in 2021.

For many years, most viewers of “Deadliest Catch” thought that at least Phil had another son capable of taking care of the business that he left behind. For some time, Josh fulfilled this role but fans wondered why he was conspicuously absent in the latest season of the show. Everyone, including the cast, was shocked that he was fired from the TV series, and were stunned by the reason behind it. It was revealed that he’d been charged with sexually abusing a minor in 1998, when he was about 15 years old; it was said that he raped a four-year-old neighbor, who was the daughter of a deckhand.

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It took the police a long time to make a case, since DNA technology wasn’t yet that precise at the time. Since he was also a minor when it happened, he was initially placed in house confinement until he was properly charged with Fourth Degree Assault and Communicating with a Minor for Immoral Purposes. He underwent a psychological examination after spending nine months in jail as part of the court decision. The moment Discovery Channel learned about it, Josh was immediately terminated, as they no longer wanted him to be part of the series.

The tragic events and deaths in “Deadliest Catch”

Behind its celebrated narrative, the show has faced the heartache of tragedy and the storm of controversy. From fatal sinking disasters to personal struggles, “Deadliest Catch” unraveled the strength and vulnerabilities of some of its cast members, revealing the intricacies of reality TV as they balanced authenticity and dramatization. Here are some of the most frightening and tragic events in the past 18 seasons of the show:

F/V Destination: Vanished Without a Trace

One of the worst maritime disasters in the Alaskan waters happened back in February 2017. The fishing vessel, Destination, went missing near St. George Island. Apparently, the 98-foot crab boat sent out an emergency signal as early as 6:15 in the morning but it was found that nearby coast guard stations or even vessels around the area never received any distress call from the boat. An immediate search and rescue operation was ordered. Unfortunately, when the team reached the last known location, they only saw oil spills and debris. No one was found either dead or alive. The five crew members, Charles Glenn Jones, Larry O’Grady, Raymond Vincler, Kai Hamik, and Darrik Seibold including owner David Wilson were all presumed dead.

An incident report was officially released in July 2018, and it was discovered that the culprit was ice accumulation and the captain’s failure of judgment. There was an intense freezing spray at that time, resulting in an excessive ice build-up on the boat, which led to its sinking. Apparently, there was no indication that the captain even attempted to stop the boat to remove the ice or anchor offshore to avoid any mishaps. An episode entitled “Lost at Sea” was aired in July 2017, as “Deadliest Catch” paid tribute to the vanished crew members. F/V Destination appeared several times in the show, and the crew had even helped when a fire broke out on another fishing vessel in Season 12.

The Sinking of Scandies Rose: A Chilling New Year’s Eve

Another fishing vessel succumbed to the same fate in 2020. The 130-foot fishing vessel Scandies Rose went down in the icy waters near Sutwik Island on New Year’s Eve. That night claimed five lives: Gary Cobban Jr., David Lee Cobban, Arthur Ganacias, Brock Rainey, and Seth Rousseau-Gano. Only two crew members survived, namely Dean Gribble Jr. and John Lawler, as they quickly donned their survival suits and escaped the sinking boat via a life raft. However, the two had to wait for several hours before a Coast Guard chopper spotted them.

Upon investigation, it was discovered that the boat became unstable when it continuously accumulated ice. In the Alaskan waters, there were times when the weather would deliver heavy freezing spray and this could easily cause a fishing vessel to capsize. If conditions become extremely hazardous, the captain might need to consider seeking a safe harbor until the freezing spray subsides. A special episode entitled “Mayday: Scandies Rose” in “Deadliest Catch” was dedicated to them, aired in April 2020.

The death of Phil Harris, a beloved captain

Among the cherished figures in “Deadliest Catch,” Captain Phil Harris stood out as a favorite. He took the helm of the F/V Cornelia Marie in the latter part of 1990, leading the vessel with a remarkable blend of experience and intuition. When the original owners initially brought Captain Phil on board, they assumed that he had a technical background due to his adept handling of the fishing boat, however, it was actually through years of hands-on experience that he acquired his profound knowledge.

A particular skill of Captain Phil’s was his uncanny ability to assemble an exceptionally efficient crew. He was known for enlisting the best talents, particularly an outstanding engineer who played a vital role in the vessel’s smooth operation.

Throughout his years as the captain, he faced a series of harrowing moments. From an oil leak igniting a fire in the engine room to the heart-stopping incident of a deckhand being swept overboard, and even facing a colossal rogue wave that shattered the vessel’s solid steel rudders. Considering the extreme perils he confronted every time he ventured out into the Bering Sea, the possibility of his meeting a tragic fate seemed almost inevitable.

However, the fishing community and “Deadliest Catch” fans were stunned when news broke that Captain Phil had suffered a massive heart attack aboard the Cornelia Marie in February 2010, while in the midst of offloading their crab haul. He was swiftly rushed to a local Anchorage hospital, but his condition warranted a transfer to a Los Angeles hospital for specialized treatment.

Despite the finest medical care and his unyielding determination to recover, Captain Phil’s heart ultimately succumbed. The culmination of an unhealthy lifestyle compounded by the physically demanding nature of his job had taken its toll on his health; his passing at the age of 53 left a profound void. He left behind his two sons, Jake and Josh Harris, who initially were expected to continue their father’s legacy.

The death of Nick McGlashan, a troubled deck boss

“Deadliest Catch” viewers couldn’t help but notice the challenging paths that some individuals who pursued fishing careers tread, often grappling with the effects of alcohol and drug abuse. The unscripted TV series has chronicled these heartrending narratives, one of which concerns Nick McGlashan.

Unlike the sad tale of Captain Phil Harris, the tragic story of Nick McGlashan, a deck boss aboard the F/V Summer Bay, wasn’t caused by the dangers of being out there at the mercy of the Bering Sea, and the unpredictability of the weather. Nick’s path was marred by deep entanglements with alcohol and drugs, which began to take a toll on his health, evident to his watchful captain, as these struggles translated into poor decision-making on the deck. Nick initially cited a health condition and hinted at the presence of cancerous cells, which as later revealed, weren’t the root of his troubles. The hidden truth was an opiate addiction, which he courageously sought to conquer by voluntarily entering rehab in 2016. This marked a turning point, as he emerged victorious and later on helped others battling similar demons. Following his transformation, the Summer Bay crew never had any problem with him.

However, somewhere along this path of redemption, something went wrong. In December 2020, the news sent shockwaves through the community when it was revealed that Nick had tragically passed away in a suite at a Holiday Inn in Nashville. Despite efforts by medical professionals to revive him, they were unsuccessful. Later on, an official toxicology report was issued, confirming the suspicions of many; it was a drug overdose. Nick’s system contained a lethal combination of drugs, including methamphetamine, cocaine, and fentanyl.

“Deadliest Catch” highlighted the intense and demanding aspects of the fishing and crabbing industry, which can inadvertently contribute to the perception that substance use is a common coping mechanism among its crew. However, it’s essential to remember that the experiences of individuals vary widely, including socio-economic background, and not everyone who works in these industries becomes addicted to alcohol or drugs.

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