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Originally published January 18, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 18, 2005 at 12:07 AM

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Crab-boat sinking a blur to survivor

Separated from the others, Cache Seel clung to the hull of the Big Valley as the 92-foot crab boat slammed against the waves of the churning Bering Sea. It seemed like an eternity...

The Associated Press

ANCHORAGE — Separated from the others, Cache Seel clung to the hull of the Big Valley as the 92-foot crab boat slammed against the waves of the churning Bering Sea.

It seemed like an eternity. Or it could have been only a few minutes from the moment the 30-year-old Kodiak man was jolted awake to the time the last light went out in the sinking vessel Saturday morning.

He remains the only apparent survivor among the six-man crew.

"I have no idea what happened," Seel said yesterday. "I was asleep when it started to roll over on its starboard side. I was dang near standing up in my bunk when I woke up."

Seel said he immediately jumped into his survival suit and for the first few seconds heard the voices of the other crew members. He said he doesn't recall if they were excited or even what they said. The rest of his recollection is a jumble, flashes of thrashing waves, choking engine smoke, grabbing a life raft, his only instinct to survive.

There was no time for anyone to make a mayday call. Authorities, in fact, were alerted by signals from the Big Valley's emergency location beacon when it sank 70 miles west of St. Paul Island, about 750 miles west of Anchorage.

"I was just getting raked, knocked around," Seel said. "Everything was pretty frantic."

He said he is trying to comprehend the loss of his crewmates.

"It's a tragedy about these guys," he said. "Most of us have been together for years. They're all very dear to me. Saying I'm sorry just doesn't cut it."

Three of the crew remained missing last night as the Coast Guard wrapped up the third day of an intensive search. Petty Officer Richard Reichenbach said the Coast Guard was suspending its search for the men, barring any further developments.

Meanwhile, a man lost overboard Saturday from the Seattle-based Sultan was presumed dead, and the search for him was suspended. Crew members had scrambled to save the crewman, Manu Lagai, 33, of Spokane, even briefly grasping him, but he slipped away into the frigid water, Coast Guard officials said.

Seel was one of three crew members of the Big Valley who were found after the boat sank, but he was the only one who survived, even though all three were wearing bulky survival suits.

Alaska state troopers identified one of the dead men as Carlos Rivero, 35, of Uruguay. No hometown was given.

The other dead crewman was from Belgium, and troopers have asked consulate officials for help in locating relatives, said Trooper Dennis Dupras.

A Coast Guard cutter and helicopter went out at first light yesterday to hunt for the missing crew members, said Petty Officer Sara Francis. Among the missing is Gary Edwards, skipper and owner of the Kodiak-based Big Valley.

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