First Responders

Pacific Ocean Mayday: US Coast Guard Crews Race to Burning Yacht

May 12, 2022Noelle Wiehe
luxury yacht Domani

To rescue seven mariners on board the disabled yacht Domani roughly 25 nautical miles off Washington’s shoreline, on Saturday, May 7, 2022, the US Coast Guard scrambled two cutters, two motor life boats, and a helicopter. US Coast Guard photo.

The crew of the Domani didn’t know that the sun rising off the coast of Washington on May 7 was going to shine on a disaster, but 20 minutes after dawn they were watching the Pacific Ocean rush through the yacht’s transom door.

The hatch was stuck. And the disabled 147-foot yacht was burning roughly 25 nautical miles from shore. The crew activated the yacht’s emergency batteries to radio the US Coast Guard Sector Columbia River’s command center.

Watchstanders got the first call at 6:30 a.m. Saturday, triggering a rescue operation that would straddle two states, span two days, and involve two cutters, two motor life boats, and a helicopter. And the weather was worsening.

With each minute, the wind chop rose, the gusts from the northwest beating like a boxer on the yacht’s hull. First the crests of the waves began to break into spindrift. Then came the white horses, riding down the surf. And then the churn of foul silver foam, as the swells rose to 6 feet, then 8.

A jammed transom door was allowing seawater to flow into the disabled yacht Domani on Saturday, May 7, 2022, roughly 25 nautical miles west of the Washington shoreline. US Coast Guard photo.

“Us, as the crew, we talked about the risks that were inherent with what was happening, but the gain of saving seven lives obviously outweighs whatever risks could be there,” US Coast Guard Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Ethan Rhinehart told Coffee or Die Magazine.

Rhinehart was on board a 47-foot motor life boat steaming west from Washington’s Station Grays HarborRacing ahead of him was a sister motor life boat from Station Quillayute River, with Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Levi Rizan on board.

Rizan told Coffee or Die about punching through winds up to 20 knots and “about a minute of hail” to reach a yacht they were told was afire, its crew preparing to board raft boats to escape the vessel before it sank.

“It sounds like either the hydraulic system caused a fire, or fire caused the hydraulic system [on the door] to fail,” Rizan said. 

Pacific Ocean
On June 3, 2021, the US Coast Guard announced that then-Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Ethan Rhinehart had certified as a 47-foot motor life boat coxswain, capable of leading crews and commanding the life boats. US Coast Guard photo.

Above them and the first to reach the luxury vessel was an MH-60T Jayhawk rescue helicopter crew scrambled from Oregon’s Air Station Astoria. They delivered a dewatering pump to the yacht’s crew, but “where the engine space was located and how the pump was designed, they couldn’t get in there,” Rizan said. 

As the Quillayute River crew neared the yacht, the boatswains began to see kayaks and scuba gear bobbing on the waves. Among the debris, the crew plucked a black-and-white ball. 

“Turns out the guy that the soccer ball belonged to was pretty stoked that we picked it up,” Rizan told Coffee or Die. “He had plans for it. He was going to try and get the whales or seals to play with it in Alaska or something.”

Pacific Ocean
US Coast Guard rescuers pull alongside the stricken yacht Domani, roughly 25 nautical miles off Washington’s shoreline on Saturday, May 7, 2022. US Coast Guard photo.

The Grays Harbor crew arrived and joined them in the debris field, skimming the crests for life jackets. The weather had improved. And they got some good news from the yacht’s crew, before the boatswains had to dish out some bad news.

The Domani’s mariners were safe, and they said they could ride out the rescue on board the yacht. Unfortunately, the luxury boat weighed 498 gross tons, far more than a fast-response life boat can tow.

So watchstanders in Washington diverted the 210-foot medium endurance cutter Active to the yacht. It arrived around 2:30 p.m. Both life boat crews waited by the stricken vessel until they could be relieved. 

“It just really comes down to the crew getting fatigued,” Rizan said. “It was almost 14 hours on underway by the time we got back. At least the seas weren’t bigger.” 

Pacific Ocean
The US Coast Guard cutter Active, a 210-foot medium endurance cutter, maneuvers to tow the 147-foot yacht Domani, which took on water 25 nautical miles off Washington’s shoreline, Saturday, May 7, 2022. US Coast Guard photo.

Four mariners from the yacht went aboard the Quillayute River life boat for the trip to shore. The Grays Harbor crew delivered the other three to the cutter Active.

Active maneuvered around the yacht to tow it toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The plan was to meet a tug from a commercial salvage company in Neah Bay, near the maw to the fjord. The tug would then pull the vessel to a shipyard in Port Angeles — Active’s Washington homeport — for repairs.

That portion of the rescue took roughly 24 hours, according to the US Coast Guard. And the crew of a second cutter, the 87-foot Blue Shark out of nearby Everett, was there to coordinate the final moments of a successful operation.

“It was definitely, I would say, not exactly an ordinary case,” said Station Grays Harbor’s Rhinehart.

Read Next: The Coast Guard Race To Rescue Dolphin Trapped in Illegal Fishing Net

Noelle Wiehe
Noelle Wiehe

Noelle is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die through a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned with the US Army Cadet Command. Noelle also worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military as a public affairs specialist.

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