Deok Won Cho, 09-04-04

Jong Sil Lee

Two who died in Gulf of Alaska identified
HARD WIND: The five Anchorage residents were fishing south of Seward.

Anchorage Daily News

(Published: September 6, 2004)

Sam Lim bobbed in the waves, clutching a life preserver, for at least half an hour before a tour boat happened to pass by and save his life. The boat he and his friends went fishing in sank in the stormy waters south of Seward on Saturday.

Lim was the first of three people to be rescued. Two of his friends drowned.

Alaska State Troopers identified the dead as Deok Won Cho, 53, and Jong Sil Lee, 48, both of Anchorage. Survivors were Sung Seo, a 28-year-old woman; Yu Kim, a 30-year-old man; and Lim, 58, who was home safe on Sunday.

The five Anchorage residents went to Seward on Saturday for a day of fishing. They drove Lee's 22-foot fiberglass Bayliner outside of Resurrection Bay, south of Rugged Island, where they turned off the engine and fished.

Wind and waves rocked the boat enough to make Lim, who had never been fishing on the open sea before, feel seasick. Suddenly, for reasons unknown to Lim, water started pouring over the back of the boat and the boat began to tilt, then sink.

The engine wouldn't start, Lim recalled in a phone interview Sunday. They called for help. But when a Mayday call was heard in Juneau, it came without a location, so no rescue was initiated, according to state troopers, who are investigating the accident.

The boat was collecting water and going down fast, Lim said. Eventually everyone jumped off. As they clutched life preservers, coolers or buckets to stay afloat, the friends periodically called out to each other, "How are you?" But the waves were so big and everyone was so cold that it was hard to talk, Lim said.

It seemed like forever. He watched some of his friends fading. He said he felt guilty and helpless because there was nothing he could do to help them.

Finally he saw a boat and started waving.

The Coastal Explorer, a Kenai Fjords Tours boat, spotted bodies and debris and pulled Lim up. He lost consciousness. When he came to, the tour boat's passengers were massaging his body and talking to him.

It was surreal and so sad, he said. He knew some of his friends died.

Skipper Tim Fleming, from the Coastal Explorer, said winds were moving at 25 mph to 35 mph and waves were rising to between 3 and 5 feet.

The Kenai Star, operated by Major Marine Tours, and the Alaskan Summer, a 31-foot Alaska Summertime Charters fishing boat, rushed to help when they heard Flemming's call on a radio.

Fleming had already rescued three people, and a doctor on his boat recommended getting them to shore quickly. Jon Tippit, who runs the Alaskan Summer, retrieved the bodies of Cho and Lee. Two medics on the Kenai Star boarded Tippit's boat and performed CPR all the way back to shore, where medical units awaited.

"Unfortunately it was too late," Tippit said.

"I'd have to say that everyone that was on the scene was just trying their best. There was some big water out there," he said. "It was a bad day, as bad as it could get."

The wind was blowing hard, and a many boats avoided the area where Lee's boat got into trouble Saturday.

Coast Guard Lt. Mike McNeil said Lee's boat was small for being on big, open water in such wind.

"Whether or not that's a factor, I don't know. It's the Gulf of Alaska, and that can be a perilous place to be, no matter what size boat you're in," he said.

Daily News reporter Anne Aurand can be reached at or 257-4591.