One person dead, two saved after fishing boat sinks in Nushagak Bay

A boat in some gray water
A tender in the Nushagak District. Wednesday, June 30, 2021. (Stephanie Maltarich/KDLG)

A commercial fisherman has died after a vessel sank in the south end of Nushagak Bay on Thursday morning with three people on board.

Authorities on Friday identified the deceased as Lance Eric Norby, 45, of Arlington, Texas. He captained the F/V Pneuma. Norby’s next of kin has been notified.

Alaska State Troopers report receiving a call around 5 a.m. Thursday morning that a commercial vessel was taking on water. Two wildlife troopers responded immediately. Before they got there, they heard reports that the three people on board were in the water. 

The report says Good Samaritans on the scene helped in the rescue. Among those was skipper Caleb Mikkelsen, who said his crew was getting ready for an opener when he got a call from a friend that there was a vessel in distress on the VHF radio.

“We could hear that there were two boats and a skiff trying to help this vessel that was sinking out on those Snake River flats there,” he said.

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The people at the scene said they still needed help. So Mikkelsen piloted his boat, the F/V Fortress, about seven miles to help.

“Pounded my boat through all the waves and stuff to get down there, and by the time I got there I realized the two boats were two deep tenders,” he said. “They draft about 10 or 15 feet so they were practically useless. And then the skiff was a trooper skiff. And there were six- or eight-foot breaking curlers going on that bar.”

Mikkelsen said the troopers had one of the people in their skiff. By that time, the boat had fully submerged in breakers. So he and his crew started looking for the rest of the crew.

“You could barely see the skiff and I could barely drive my boat in the breakers,” he said. “So we were driving around, I was just zig-zagging, had all my crew on the very top flying bridge of my boat, scouting out. And saw a buoy light, went for that, and one of the guys had the buoy light, was holding it. So we pulled him up on the jet guard.”

They found a third person and conducted CPR and attempted other life-saving efforts.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Nate Littlejohn said a Jayhawk helicopter arrived on scene.

“The coast guard lowered a rescue swimmer and determined that a third person was, in fact, deceased,” he said.

Littlejohn credited the Good Samaritan vessels with providing aid, and said it was a rough morning for everyone involved.

“It’s always difficult when we arrive on scene and find that it’s too late to save a life,” he said.

Littlejohn also thanked the Good Samaritans on the F/V Fortress and the F/V Last Frontier. The identity of the person who died will be made public once the next of kin has been notified.

Mikkelsen said that after the ordeal, he and his crew were in shock, and talked about what had happened before they headed back out to fish for the rest of the day.

Contact the author at or 907-842-2200.

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