One crew member of the San Pedro-based, 54-foot Pamela Rose was killed last week when the mast of the fishing boat snapped and collapsed on him during what was supposed to be a calm night of squid fishing.

“The weather was normal, we weren’t fishing in bad weather. There was a little bit of swell but nothing out of the ordinary,” said Brian Blair, who was assisting the crew of the Pamela Rose from his light boat, the Ultra Pacific. Blair has been in a partnership with the owners of the Pamela Rose for the past 10 years.

The fishermen were operating about eight nautical miles north of Point Piedras Blancas in San Luis Obispo County, Calif., on relatively quiet fishing grounds.

As the crew of the Pamela Rose finished their first set of the night, Blair stood on the back deck of his boat alone, watching the dewatering panel on the port side of the Pamela Rose. Then the mast snapped.

“It happened in just a few seconds. All of the lights went out, everything went silent,” said Blair. “I stood there in disbelief for a moment before my training kicked in.”

Blair pulled his anchor fast and maneuvered to the other side of the Pamela Rose where the four crew members had been working at the railing. He shined his light, now the only source of light for the two boats, onto the deck of the Pamela Rose and saw that the mast had landed on and killed one of the crew. Another fisherman was injured.

He quickly alerted the Coast Guard and was told a response team could be expected in the next two hours.

“My jaw dropped in disbelief,” said Blair. “I didn’t know how to tell these guys that they’d have to wait so long.”

A helicopter crew from the Coast Guard Air Station in San Francisco was dispatched to the scene and airlifted the injured crew member, identified only as a 62-year-old man, to Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton, where he was expected to recover.

A 47-foot lifeboat crew was dispatched from the Coast Guard Station in Morro Bay to tow the vessel back to the Morro Bay Harbor.

Blair described the boat as “looking like it had driven under a bridge it couldn’t clear.”

The deceased crew member’s identity has not been released publicly. Blair only knew the man by his first name.

The cause of the incident is under investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment in Santa Barbara.

Blair said he’s heard the rumors fly about what happened that night. “People are saying it was negligence — that the weather was bad that night, that we were setting too many fish. None of that’s true. It was just a freak accident,” he said.

Blair praised the Morro Bay community for taking him and the crew of the Pamela Rose in when they arrived. “They really looked after us,” he said. “People were offering us places to sleep, meals, their cars. It really says something about that community.”

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Samuel Hill is the former associate editor for National Fisherman. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine where he got his start in journalism at the campus’ newspaper, the Free Press. He has also written for the Bangor Daily News, the Outline, Motherboard and other publications about technology and culture.

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