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Tragedy on the Copper River during salmon opener

As commercial salmon fishing opened on the Copper River flats at the end of May, rough weather led to tragedy when a longtime fisherman based in Cordova fell overboard from his 29-foot gillnetter.

According the Alaska Dispatch News, 69-year-old Clifford Johns was fishing alone during the opener May 26. After receiving reports about a boat circling in the Copper River flats with nobody at the helm, a Coast Guard helicopter crew spotted a body in the water.

There were no witnesses to the incident, so it may be difficult for investigators to pin down exactly what happened, although an autopsy has been ordered. The ADN reports that Johns was an experienced fisherman who was well respected by the Cordova fishing community, which is mourning his loss.

While it is currently unclear what exactly caused Johns to go overboard, it is clear that the conditions were rough in the Copper River at the time. On the same day, another fishing vessel, the 24-foot bow picker Bad Boy, capsized. Again, only one person was on board. In this case, however, a nearby Good Samaritan vessel, the Crown Royal, was able to rescue the fisherman. The Coast Guard is investigating what caused the boat to capsize and is working with other agencies to salvage the vessel safely.

In the wake of these incidents, the Coast Guard is urging commercial fisherman to stay safe and be prepared for the worst. The Coast Guard will offer free commercial fishing vessel safety examinations in Cordova June 30 through July 3.


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