Thursday, June 19, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Rescue Crew's Last Moments

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

A PETTY OFFICER'S all-out rush to save lives may have prevented him from realizing the dangers his crew faced.

The first adrenaline rush came about 12:30 in the morning as a phone ring suddenly roused David Bosley from sleep as he lay in his Coast Guard station bunk.

Thirty minutes later, after a dramatic rescue attempt, Bosley's day - and that of two of his fellow crewmen - would be over as abruptly as it had begun.

New details about that fateful Feb. 12 morning and the botched rush to try to save two people on a 31-foot sailboat off the Olympic Peninsula near La Push came to light yesterday after a four-month Coast Guard investigation.

It's an investigation that has shed light on the last moments of Petty Officer 2nd Class Bosley, 36, of San Mateo, Calif., Seaman Clinton Miniken, 22, of Snohomish, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Schlimme, 24, of Whitewater, Mo. It has also triggered a national push by the Coast Guard to step up training and safety measures so that such an accident never happens again.

In Snohomish, Miniken's father, Dan Miniken, said he had talked to a Coast Guard commandant about the findings but had not yet received a copy of the report.

"I'm not going to make any statement at all until I read the full report," he said yesterday.

Schlimme's mother, Haroletta Schlimme, had also gotten a call from the Coast Guard but had not received the report yet. She had no response to the findings.

Here's how events unfolded, according to Cmdr. James Hasselbalch, a senior member of the Coast Guard's investigating panel:

Bosley was radioed word that the sailboat, en route from California to Bremerton, was taking on water. He sounded the station alarm, waking his crew.

Within minutes, Bosley was on the 44-foot lifeboat with his crew, and in a haste to leave, did not brief them on what was happening.

Once out on the water, amid pitch darkness, hard rain and 30 mph winds, panic quickly set in.

At one point, Schlimme told Bosley he wanted to turn back. Bosley, however, snapped back, saying they would go on.

"There was a point when Bosley said (to the station) he was very busy," said Rear Adm. J. David Spade, commander of the 13th Coast Guard District, who spoke about the incident yesterday.

Benjamin Wingo, the only surviving crew member, then spotted a massive rock about 10 feet from the starboard side just before a large wave slammed the boat into it, capsizing it.

George LaForge, officer in charge of the station, immediately asked for a status check, but got only a muffled response, hearing the words, "capsized and disoriented."

From the shore, other crewmen could see the boat's spotlight, jerking up and down in the water.

Then a second wave hit, pushing the front of the boat onto another rock, flipping the boat stern-over-bow, ejecting Bosley and Miniken.

With the boat resting atop a row of rocks, Wingo yelled, "We've got to get out of here!" and began to unbuckle himself, but Schlimme told Wingo to get back in his harness.

Just as he yelled out, "Hold on!" a third wave rocked the boat, sending it off the rocks and throwing Schlimme into the water.

Minutes later, as the boat came closer to the James Island cove, Wingo fired off five flares, alerting other Coast Guard crewmen of his location.

By 1 a.m., it was over. A Coast Guard helicopter first rescued the two people aboard the sailboat and, hours later, found Wingo on the lifeboat.

It was later learned all three crewmen died from head injuries.

It was unclear why they weren't wearing their helmets and if they hit the rocks or if the boat hit them.

The Coast Guard said it's clear Bosley wanted to save the two people on the sailboat - Navy Lt. Kenneth Schlag and his girlfriend - but in his haste to do so, Bosley lost sight of the dangers.

Hasselbalch, in another report, concluded Bosley failed to:

-- "Inform his superiors about the deteriorating weather and sea conditions."

-- "Properly brief, coordinate and prepare his boat crew."

-- Assess the rough bar conditions correctly.

-- Exercise appropriate judgment by crossing the bar.

The report also points out that navigation lights, which could have alerted ground crewmen that the boat was too close to the rocks, weren't turned on.

Despite the mistakes, Spade called Bosley a hero.

"He set out with the best of intentions," Spade said.

Spade said Bosley had showed questionable judgment once before, in a 1995 incident that caused him to temporarily lose his coxswain qualifications. In that accident, Bosley took an unseaworthy lifeboat into the ocean from the La Push station.

His coxswain credentials were reinstated in September 1995.

Despite all the hazards, however, Spade said a boat crew could have made a successful rescue that night.

In a separate safety investigation, it was determined the ground crew was not liable, even though they could have prevented Bosley from going out to sea.

As a result of the accident, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Kramek ordered a safety review for about 180 small-boat stations.

It means nearly 4,000 Coast Guard personnel from across the country will have to go through renewed safety training, including team operations, Spade said. A date has yet to be selected.

Among the measures:

-- A clear policy is to be published regarding wearing of safety belts, helmets and protective clothing.

-- A study of the Quillayute River approach has been ordered. An initial study has concluded that no additional navigation aids are necessary there.

-- The bar floodlights at the Quillayute River entrance will be reactivated. They were out of service the night of the accident.

-- The 13th Coast Guard District and the Coast Guard's personnel command must closely monitor the Quillayute River station to ensure it has sufficient qualified personnel.

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


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