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Thursday, February 13, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Coast Guard, Town Grieve -- 3 Crew Members Die As Rescue Boat Capsizes; 1 Survives

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

FORKS, Clallam County - Sandi Bosley cradled herself in her own arms yesterday, trying to understand why her husband - "my friend, my lover, my pal" - had died that morning in a Coast Guard rescue mission off the coast of La Push.

"I still don't believe it is true," Bosley said of her husband's death and the capsizing of a Coast Guard rescue boat that also killed two other crewmen. "I can't believe he's not going to come wheeling down the road here, tear into the carport and walk inside."

Her 36-year-old husband, Petty Officer 2nd Class David Bosley, was part of a four-person crew that was sent into a raging storm early yesterday morning to rescue a Bremerton couple from their sinking sailboat. The couple survived, but three Coast Guard crew members died and a fourth was injured.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Schlimme, 24, of Whitewater, Mo., and Seaman Clinton Miniken, 22, of Snohomish, also died in the accident. Nineteen-year-old Seaman Apprentice Benjamin Wingo of Bremerton, the most junior member of the team, survived. He suffered only cuts and a broken nose.

The crew was sent out at about 12:30 a.m. in a 44-foot motor lifeboat that is designed to operate in rough conditions and right itself when capsized. A second rescue boat also responded to the distress calls from the sailboat, which was operated by Kenneth Schlag, a Navy lieutenant assigned to the USS Carl Vinson, and his wife.

The couple were sailing from California to Bremerton, where the Vinson is based, when high winds and waves pushed their boat, the Gale Runner, into a group of jagged rocks called The Needles near the mouth of the Quillayute River.

The Schlags - who had been living aboard the sailboat - were plucked from the boat in a dramatic rescue by a Coast Guard helicopter. Both were treated for minor injuries and released from the Forks Community Hospital yesterday.

One of the rescue boats crossed the river bar safely, but communication with the other was lost. A red distress flare was spotted at 12:55 a.m., and four more flares were seen 15 minutes later as the crew on the surviving rescue boat tried to locate their missing counterparts.

Where, exactly, the boat capsized yesterday isn't clear yet. Another mystery is how the capsized boat and three crew members, including Wingo, wound up deep inside a cove on James Island, just off the coast.

Today, four Coast Guard officials from around the country were to begin arriving and will take over the investigation into what caused the acccident.

The team's leader, Capt. Carmond Fitzgerald of Detroit, was on his way this morning to the Coast Guard station at La Push, called the Quillayute River Station.

One of the four investigators is a medical doctor who will review autopsy reports to determine how the men died.

The team also hoped to fly tomorrow via helicopter to the site of the wreckage, where investigators already are concerned that tides could sweep it away.

Early reports of what caused the boat to capsize indicate that it got caught parallel to incoming waves and rolled three times, said Coast Guard Chief Kurt Looser.

The team also intends to re-interview Wingo, though for now, authorities are allowing him to rest.

"We intentionally are not pressing him for information at this stage," Coast Guard Commander Ken Armstrong said today in Seattle. "He needs to recover mentally and physically."

Wingo was released from the Forks hospital yesterday afternoon and returned to the Coast Guard station in La Push. There, he spoke with Rear Admiral J. David Spade, district commander for Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

"This is truly a tragic day for the Coast Guard," said Spade, standing outside the small brick station, under a U.S. flag lowered to half-staff.

He peered toward the ocean, where rocky James Island stood impassively amid the white waves.

It was the first fatal capsizing for that type of rescue boat in its 35-year history. But the Coast Guard said yesterday it has been phasing such boats out of service.

The crew members were wearing survival suits and were in communication with the second Coast Guard boat, Spade said. But they lost contact, and the second boat was unable to rescue members from the first.

Help also came from about 100 members of the Quileute Tribe, who live on the La Push Reservation and have formed a strong relationship with the Coast Guard. Early yesterday, they fanned out on the beaches searching for survivors until tribal police Chief Ken Lewis was forced to order everybody off the beach because conditions were too dangerous.

"The sea was just boiling," Lewis said. "It was raging. The last time I had seen it like this was when the Gambler went down. . . . We had a massive search then."

The Gambler, a 45-foot fishing boat, capsized in January 1990 off La Push, killing seven people.

During yesterday's search, Lewis said the wind was so strong people couldn't hear each other talk. At least two people were injured on the shore during the search. " . . . to be told the Coast Guard rescue boat was lost and the guardsmen were in the water, that was really a shock. Incomprehensible," Lewis said.

That sentiment was heard throughout La Push yesterday as tribal members posted signs expressing their sorrow. "Our hearts, prayers and thoughts are with the Quillayute River Coast Guard families and friends," read a sign posted near a Coast Guard housing base.

"It's a big tragedy and loss," said Quileute member Nancy Williams. "This community is so tight with the Coast Guard."

At the town's Post Office, Postmaster Maureen McGarrett talks daily with many Coast Guard families. "This is hard on everyone," she said. "The Coast Guard families are so much a part of this community."

In the small timber town of Forks, just 15 winding miles from La Push, the tragedy was equally felt. At the hospital, clerk Jamie Schneider learned of one of the deaths last night.

"Oh my God," she said when hearing Schlimme's name. He was married to one of her friends, Christy Schlimme, who works at a Subway sandwich shop in Forks.

"He was just wonderful, very sweet to everybody," Schneider said. "And they were just about to transfer back home."

Schneider said the couple had been married several years and had no children. None of the guardsmen who died had children.

The Bosleys met in 1979 and had been "joined at the hip since then," said Sandi Bosley while sitting in her small Forks cottage. She slumped, looking at a picture of her husband.

She shook her head, still disbelieving, her face hidden by long straight hair. Her comments swung between anger and grief, praising him for helping others and then angered that anyone was on the water in such difficult conditions.

Then she recalled the events of the past day, when she was awakened by a friend who called, wondering if her husband was involved in the rescue mission. Concerned, she contacted the station.

"I called and said, `This is Mrs. Bosley. Is my old man OK?' "

Information from Seattle Times staff reporter Jennifer Bjorhus and the Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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