Spotted at Westport Boat Basin on Grays Harbor
It seems that in at least 9 out of 10 cases, a small, wooden troller moored in a Northwest fishing port has only that story to tell, being a small wooden troller. Sure a few may have emigrated from Canada, and a few others are rebuilt from seiners or gillnetters, but overall the histories are fairly similar.
When I photographed this little vessel, I assumed much of the same. Even the first glance at her Coast Guard documentation didn’t do much to change my mind. The only question was raised by her documentation number being much more recent than her 1960 build date. However, I easily persuaded myself that despite being built at Tacoma, perhaps she could have gone straight to a Canadian owner, and only gained her US registration number after a sale in recent years.
Little did I know that there was more to her story to be told, the discovery of which I owe to the West Coast Fishermen group on Facebook. One of the members there quickly pointed out her former name of FEDAIR I, and stated that she was used to supply Biorka Island in Alaska.
With that tidbit of information, I had a jumping-off point to dig up what exists online. As suggested by the name, she was delivered by Tacoma Boatbuilding to the Federal Aviation Administration, which sent her up to Sitka, Alaska to supply the FAA communications station on Biorka Island, along with a nearby Coast Guard LORAN-A site. She is perhaps best known for her role in the crash of Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 293 on October 22, 1962. Flight 293, a Douglas DC-7 chartered to the Military Air Transport Service, was bound from McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Washington to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska carrying 95 passengers, all of whom were servicemen or family members, along with 7 crew. Just before noon, Captain Vinton Hansen radioed that the aircraft had lost power to the No.2 engine and that the prop began uncontrollably rotating at excessive speed, effecting his ability to keep the aircraft under control. Initially it was thought that the plane would make Sitka Harbor, where the Coast Guard 180-ft buoy tender SORREL was standing by to affect a rescue. However, it soon became apparent that the plane intended to ditch approximately 15 miles south of Sitka, near Biorka Island. With this new situation, the nearest available boat was dispatched for the rescue, which happened to be FEDAIR I. Fortunately for the 102 persons aboard Flight 293, Captain Hansen was able to perform virtually a textbook water landing. With the aircraft floating intact, the entire complement disembarked in a matter of only a couple of minutes onto the rafts, which then made their way to the FEDAIR I, which ferried all to Sitka.
While FEDAIR I’s rescue of Flight 293 was a hands-down success, the incident should not be confused with the crash of Flight 293 little more than six months later, on June 3rd, 1963. That flight, also a DC-7 under MATS charter and flying the same route, crashed into the sea at high speed for unknown reasons, with the loss of all 101 on board.
As for FEDAIR I, her career with the FAA came to a close in 1978, when Biorka Island began to be supplied by aircraft. No longer needed in Sitka, the stout little boat was transferred to Wrangell, Alaska where she was used to ferry Young Adults Conservation Corps workers to and from work sites in Southeast Alaska. From this point on, the boat’s history dries up until she was sold into civilian ownership circa 2000 under her present name. Her initial owner apparently spent several years adding a trolling rig to user her for commercial fishing, and she first appears with an Alaska Fish & Game registration number in 2008. Now owned by a gentleman in Ketchikan, Alaska, the BIORKA appears to spend her time travelling Northwest waters to pursue her owner’s desires.
USCG Doc #: 1031148
Owner: Alex Peura, Ketchikan, AK
Hailing Port: Ketchikan, AK
AFDG #: 75491
Call Sign: WDD7162
Length: 15.85 meters
Beam: 4.55 meters
Tonnage: 35 GT / 28 NT
Year of Build: 1960
Builder: Tacoma Boatbuilding Company, Tacoma, WA
Former Name: FEDAIR I