Bodies of clam diggers found; Officials begin investigation into Cook Inlet accident

Posted: Thursday, May 19, 2011

ANCHORAGE -- The bodies of all five clam diggers who were reported missing from their 20-foot skiff as they returned from a day of harvesting have been found, authorities said Wednesday.

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Ap Photos/U.s. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
Ap Photos/U.s. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
In this photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 2nd Class Brian West, left, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Kara Pardee scan the water for four missing clam diggers from the rear of an HC-130 Herclues aircraft southwest of Kalgin Island in Cook Inlet, Tuesday.

They were long-time contract workers for Pacific Alaska Shellfish, which was notified Tuesday that the crew was missing in an area in Cook Inlet where they were digging for razor clams. Three of their bodies were found later that day.

The remaining two bodies were spotted Wednesday by a Coast Guard helicopter crew on the mudflats well off a beach, less than a mile from where the other bodies were found near Polly Creek, southwest of Kalgin Island.

The three found Tuesday had on life jackets, while the two recovered Wednesday did not, the Coast Guard said. The skiff was also recovered.

"We don't know what led up to the individuals being in the water," Petty Officer David Mosley said.

The weather was clear with relatively light winds and moderate waves when the clam diggers went missing, he said.

One of the bodies was found Tuesday by employees of the company, which issued a statement calling it the "most tragic event in the history of our company."

"These hard-working and experienced individuals have contracted with our company for many years and are considered close friends and family," Frank Dulcich, president and CEO of Pacific Alaska Shellfish, said.

The Alaska State Troopers were withholding the workers' names until relatives were notified.

Pacific Alaska Shellfish is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pacific Seafood Group, headquartered in Clackamas, Ore. The company has a seasonal plant in Nikiski, about 60 miles south of Anchorage where it processes razor clams, according to the company's website said.

The clams are harvested on a 6-mile stretch of beach between Polly Creek and the Crescent River.

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