Captain Dies During Daring Rescue in Freezing Seas

A sinking fishing boat's captain wouldn't leave ship until his men were safe.

ByNeal Karlinsky

March 25, 2008 — -- In the icy waters of the Bering Sea, Easter Sunday began with a distress call that would turn out to be one of the largest cold water rescues in Coast Guard history.

The 189-foot Alaska Ranger was going down 120 miles west of Dutch Harbor in some of Alaska's most treacherous seas, leaving the crew no choice but to abandon ship into 20-foot seas and snow.

When the first Coast Guard rescue chopper arrived, pilots found a mile-long line of bobbing flashing lights. Each one was a survivor, dotting the icy waters.

Rescue swimmers quickly hit the water and began helping dozens of men into baskets lowered from the chopper.

"I did pick up a couple of survivors who were terrified, and rightly so. They were in the middle of the Bering Sea. The water was 35 degrees. They were freezing and they were alone," said rescue swimmer and Petty Officer 2nd Class O'Brien Hollow.

The Coast Guard and the boat's nearby sister ship were able to rescue 42 of the 47 crew members, many of whom were lifted from the water by helicopter.

The conditions in the Bering Sea are so dangerous that they've been showcased in a reality show called "The Deadliest Catch." However, it remains unclear whether sea conditions were part of the reason why the Alaska Ranger went down.

One man fell from the rescue basket more than 30 feet back into the ocean, but the helicopter was nearly out of fuel and couldn't get him. It is still unclear if he survived.

A Coast Guard cutter and another ship also helped to pull men from the sea.

"I worked with Katrina. I was in downtown New Orleans, but never have I ever been involved in a ship port rescue of this magnitude," said Craig Lloyd, captain of the Coast Guard cutter Munro.

"I told the survivors I appreciated [their] expressing their thanks for my crew and all I did for them, and I told them I appreciated what they did. Because at 3 o'clock in the morning where their world went to hell, they had the presence of mind and ability to get in survival suits and abandon ship in the dark, into cold rough water and get together, get into life rafts. They made it so that we could rescue them."

The Coast Guard rescue swimmers weren't the only heroes. The Alaska Ranger's captain, Eric Peter Jacobsen, and his closest mates wouldn't budge until their crew was off. It cost them their lives.

The ship captain's daughter said he always vowed to take care of his crew.

"I think that's the way he would have wanted to go, you know, saving other people, putting others before himself," Karen Jacobsen said. "I think he was a hero and someone doing his job. It was his job to be a hero if necessary."

Forty-two families will tell the story of a miraculous rescue.

A captain's family will tell a different story — of a man who stayed with his ship, put his crew first and never made it home.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events