M/V Challenger and barge overturned in Nushagak near Kokwok

(Photo via KDLG)
(Photo via KDLG)

A Ridge Contracting vessel and barge are overturned and sunk in the Nushagak River near the outlet of the Kokwok.

Download Audio

The M/V Challenger with two onboard went down Sunday around 3 p.m.; both onboard are fine with no reported injuries. The cause of the sinking has not been determined yet, said Petty Officer Patrick Brown with Coast Guard Sector Anchorage. Brown is overseeing an initial investigation of the downed vessel Challenger:

“It’s approximately 45 feet long,” said Brown Monday afternoon. “It had a barge called “Barge No. 1” in side tow, when both of them sunk. They were carrying some scrap metal from recycled cars; no oil or hazmat, as far as cargo was concerned, on board them at the time. The Challenger has a max capacity of 300 gallons for fuels on board. The responsible party is reporting there was 100 gallons of diesel onboard at the time that the vessel sunk.”

The Coast Guard flew an aerial survey of the wreckage Monday, noting that the vessels appear to be intact and overturned as other witnesses have reported from the river.

Petty Officer Brown said the flight crew was unable to determine how much pollution may have occurred:

“They spotted some sheen about a mile from the vessel, but we could neither confirm nor deny that it’s coming directly from the vessel at this point,” he said.

The barge was hauling scrapped vehicles from New Stuyahok down the river to Dillingham. New Stuyahok’s IGAP coordinator told KDLG News Monday those vehicles had been drained of oil, gas, and freon, which was recycled in New Stuyahok and was not onboard the barge.

The first boat to pass by the sunken vessel Sunday had Fish and Game biologists onboard bringing weir equipment down from the Stuyahok River site. They encountered the vessel a little past 6 p.m., some three hours after it had rolled and sunk. Fisheries biologist Elizabeth Smith said it was a very windy day on the river, making boating difficult:

“We had just gone through what was probably the roughest patch of waves we had seen that day,” she said Monday. “Pretty big waves for the Nushagak. And that’s when we saw the boat turned over in the river, which was really surprising. I didn’t see anybody on top of first until we got pretty close to it.”

Smith said that’s when two men standing on the then-exposed hull came into view. When those men waved, Smith’s boat headed over, picked them up, and brought them to a nearby gravel bar:

“Both of them were dry,” she said. “They said when the scow tipped over, they were able to walk on top of the hull, so they stayed out of the water the whole time.”

The men, whose names had not been released Monday, used a Fish and Game sat phone to call for a pick up from other Ridge employees still in New Stuyahok.

A resident told KDLG News that Ridge Contracting is currently working on the landfill road in the village and took the compacted scrap car removal as a separate contract.

The company will be responsible for salvaging the vessel, and Petty Officer Brown said Monday that Ridge was taking “proactive measures” to begin that process.

“Right now they’re working on getting a barge and a landing craft up there to try and get the vessel up, remove the threat of any pollution, and get it out of the way of any business that needs to take place on the Nushagak,” said Brown.

Anchorage-based Ridge Contracting has not responded to requests for comment.