An Incredible True Tale of
Disaster and Survival at Sea
Michael J. Tougias
Scribner, hardcover, 240 pp. $24.00
Author, Michael Tougias seems to be specializing, of late, in disaster at sea books. In April of 2006 his Ten Hours Until Dawn, a hair raising account of an attempted sea rescue during the Blizzard of 1978 was reviewed here. Fatal Forecast is equally riveting and altogether more upbeat in that a story of survival against all odds is mixed in with the larger story of loss.
Two New England fishing vessels embark on what the captain and crew hope will be the last trip of the season to the Grand Banks for offshore lobsters. It is November and cold as a proverbial... The weather predictions indicate unremarkable weather for the Banks, however, and the men are casually confidant. After twenty hours of quiet steaming, they separately reach the Banks. Within a few hours the weather turns from benign to belligerent but the forecast continues to report unthreatening conditions. As the seas build to 60 to 90-foot waves and the wind reaches hurricane speeds the steel Fair Wind and the wooden Sea Fever-both rugged 50-foot boats put their bows into the seas, intending to ride out the storm.
The crews were taken by surprise and both comment about the discrepancy between the weather they are experiencing and the forecast. The Sea Fever is captained by Peter Brown. His father, Bob is also out on the Banks on the Sea Star, a 70-footer and about twenty miles away when his son issues his "Mayday" call on the radio. The Sea Fever has been swamped, lying broadside to the waves and has lost a man when the pilot house was blown apart by a wave.
The Fair Wind fairs worse but the story of one of her crewmen, Ernie Hazard, is close to a miracle. He manages eventually to climb into a small inflatable life raft in which he floats for three days and lives to tell the tale.
On land, rescue missions are mustered and the Coast Guard initiates a search for the raft. When all the dust has settled, some of the families of the fishermen launched the first lawsuit in the history of the country against the government National Weather Service.
Two crucial weather buoys in the North Atlantic had not been operating for a considerable amount of time when the storm developed. The Weather Service was aware of this equipment failure and continued to issue forecasts for the region without the crucial information the buoys would have provided. The judge found the Service responsible for an inaccurate forecast stating that negligence in issuing the forecast was a "substantial factor" in loss of life. Needless to say, the ruling was revisited.
When Ernie Hazard found out that the inventor/designer of his life raft was still alive, he sought him out and thanked him. Not long after he recovered, he moved to California.