Search for missing person suspended after explosion, fire at Whittier dock

A fire burns on F/V Alaganik and Delong Dock after an explosion on fixed barge in Whittier, Alaska, July 8, 2019. Photo courtesy of Alex Fefelov/for The Cordova Times

UPDATED: 8:47 p.m. July 8, 2019

An explosion and subsequent fire on a barge at the Whittier harbor early on July 8 spread to the pier and then to the 99-foot F/V Alaganik, homeported in Cordova, sinking both vessels and leaving one person missing, the Coast Guard said.

The fishing vessel and barge at Whittier’s Delong Dock both sank in 85 feet of water at the pier with a potential maximum of 5,500 gallons of fuel oil aboard, the Coast Guard said.

A fire burns at Delong Dock after an explosion on fixed barge in Whittier, Alaska, July 8, 2019. In addition to Coast Guard crews, response efforts included members of the Whittier Fire Department, Whittier Police Department, Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel Fire Department and Girdwood Fire Department. Photo courtesy of Coast Guard Sector Anchorage

Initial reports said that there were two people on board the Anagalik at the time of the explosion, but Whittier police have since confirmed that one of those two was safe aboard a different vessel enroute to Whittier at that time.

An air search for a 49-year-old Cordova man who went missing after the explosion was suspended late on July 8, Coast Guard officials said. Cmdr. Mark Kuperman, Coast Guard Sector Anchorage deputy commander and search-and-rescue coordinator for the search, said “our thoughts are with the family and friends who were impacted by this tragedy.”

Coast Guard Sector Anchorage watchstanders heard the phrase “Whittier fire, Whittier fire,” over VHF Channel 16 shortly after midnight and contacted Whittier dispatchers, who confirmed the fire at the Delong Dock. Several minutes later an Alaska Railroad security officer also reported the incident.

A Safety Marine Information Broadcast was issued by the Coast Guard to establish a 100-yard safety zone to keep vessels a safe distance from the fire while the crew of the Chandeleur responded. By 2:50 a.m. the Whittier Fire Department confirmed the fire was extinguished.

The fishing vessel owner, of Cordova, was reportedly headed to Whittier and declined comment. The Coast Guard confirmed that Global Diving ad Salvage had been contracted for clean-up and salvage efforts. On scene commander Brian Hicks, chief of Whittier Fire Department, said responders included the Whittier Fire Department, Whittier Police Department, Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel Fire Department and Girdwood Fire Department, including crews aboard Tender 41 and Tender 42 from Girdwood.

Damage captured after an explosion and subsequent fire at Delong Dock in Whittier, Alaska, July 8, 2019. The pier, including three cranes, nearby structures, vehicles and the commercial fishing vessel Alaganik were damaged in the fire. Photo courtesy of Coast Guard Sector Anchorage
Damage captured after an explosion and subsequent fire at Delong Dock in Whittier, Alaska, July 8, 2019. The pier, including three cranes, nearby structures, vehicles and the commercial fishing vessel Alaganik were damaged in the fire. Photo courtesy of Coast Guard Sector Anchorage
Damage captured after an explosion and subsequent fire at Delong Dock in Whittier, Alaska, July 8, 2019. The pier, including three cranes, nearby structures, vehicles and the commercial fishing vessel Alaganik were damaged in the fire. Photo courtesy of Coast Guard Sector Anchorage