Mayday on the Carolina Queen - The New York Times
by Marc Santora
The seven fishermen aboard the Carolina Queen III, a 76-foot scalloping boat that set out from Norfolk, Va., had been at sea for four days when the skies darkened off the coast of the Rockaways
A powerful storm system that had already lashed the East Coast, bringing tornadoes, thunder, lightning, high winds and heavy rains, was barreling down on them. Homes had been flattened, vehicles had been tossed like Tinkertoys and trees had been ripped from their roots. At least seven people had died. The crew knew they were in for nasty weather, but they were scallopers. Weather comes with the job.
As night fell on Feb. 24, the winds started to blow across New York City. At 8:45 p.m., a large section of a facade collapsed on Fordham Street in the Bronx. At 9:19, a tractor-trailer was blown over on the upper level of the George Washington Bridge. By midnight, there were reports of downed trees and power lines around the region.
Off the coast, winds were gusting up to 69 miles an hour, according to data collected by the National Weather Service.
The men on the Carolina Queen had a decision to make. One successful 11-day scalloping trip can pull in a profit of $500,000. Each fisherman can make $40,000 on a good voyage. The crew was open-sea fishing, about 30 miles off the coast, as the storm approached. The men decided to steer the vessel closer to shore — past a predetermined demarcation line that would stop the clock on their allotted 32-day yearly limit at sea.
The Carolina Queen had only 50 bags of scallops — 60 pounds per bag — on ice in the hold. With the scallop season drawing to a close, this trip was the crew’s last chance for a major haul. When the skies cleared, they expected, they would get back to business.
But shortly after 2 a.m. on Feb. 25, the vessel, battered by wind and waves, ran aground. Soon, one of its generators failed and the Carolina Queen issued a desperate mayday, setting in motion a harrowing rescue operation.
In the next few hours, a Coast Guard boat capsized and Fire Department vessels were unable to reach the stranded scallop boat because of the weather. Ultimately, the Coast Guard decided to undertake a daring airlift operation by a crew dispatched from Atlantic City.