Fishing trip ends in Port Angeles Harbor tragedy

Police continue to investigate fatal boat crash

PORT ANGELES — A fishing boat that struck an empty salmon pen in Port Angeles Harbor on Tuesday night was traveling nearly 30 mph before the fatal crash, a preliminary report obtained Thursday said.

Robert R. Elliott and his three passengers were returning from a six-hour fishing trip when the 20-foot fiberglass boat they were on collided with the structure at about 9:45 p.m., Port Angeles police said.

Elliott, 62, of Everett was pronounced dead after being transported to Coast Guard Group Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles.

The crash occurred at the Cooke Aquaculture fish pens just south of the entrance to the Coast Guard base on Ediz Hook. The fish pens, which once contained 690,000 Atlantic salmon, had recently been emptied.

Police continued to investigate the crash Thursday.

“This is a tragedy, but if anything positive can come from the tragedy it might be discussions about boating safety,” said Jason Viada, Port Angeles deputy chief of police.

“That might be positive for the future.”

Police said the lights on the boat were not working at the time of the crash and that alcohol might have been a contributing factor.

Viada added that a pending autopsy and toxicology examination would be “critical in confirming some of the preliminary information about this case.”

Police were working with the U.S. Coast Guard, state Department of Natural Resources and salvage companies to raise the fishing boat.

It was not known how much gasoline was on the boat before it sank in about 120 feet of water.

“Removing that boat is going to be more labor intensive and costly than initially anticipated,” Viada said Thursday.

“We’re still discussing which agency would be able to remove that boat from the water, and indeed if any agency is going to remove that boat from the water.”

Viada said it would require specialized divers to remove the boat given the depth.

The three survivors, Robert Elliott Jr., 36, Christopher Davis, 30, and a 14-year-old boy, were able to climb from the damaged boat to a dock at the fish pens.

A Coast Guard helicopter crew lowered a rescue swimmer to assist with CPR.

The boaters had launched from Port Angeles Boat Haven at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday to drop shrimp pots and to fish, police said in a detail call for service report.

“Once dark, they discovered their on-board running lights didn’t work and had no way to navigate back to shore,” Clallam County Sheriff’s Sgt. Eric Morris wrote in the police log.

The boy estimated that the boat was traveling 25 knots — or 28.8 mph — when it collided with the fish pen, Morris said in a report obtained through a Peninsula Daily News public records request.

“They didn’t see the object at all due to lighting,” Morris said.

Sunset occurred in Port Angeles at 8:52 p.m. Tuesday.

A rear taillight was the only working light on the boat, witnesses said.

Robert Elliott Sr. was said to have been familiar with the area.

“No one was drinking alcohol except for the deceased, who had four beers throughout the voyage,” Morris said.

The Coast Guard helicopter diverted from a training mission when a crew member spotted a person on the boat attempting CPR on an unresponsive individual.

After the rescue swimmer was lowered and swam to the fish pen dock, the foursome was transported by Coast Guard rescue boat to awaiting emergency medical technicians on shore.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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