NAHCOTTA — A missing Long Beach crabber was found by divers last Friday inside the sunken crabbing vessel Kelli J in Willapa Bay, according to the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard confirmed Monday that the fisherman was Kevin Soule, 39, the skipper of the Kelli J. He was alone on board at the time of an unexplained mishap while tending to crab pots on May 19.
The vessel was refloated by contractors Friday and was taken to the Nahcotta marina, with the owner’s insurance company coordinating the remaining salvage efforts, the Coast Guard said.
Pacific County Sheriff’s Office personnel transported Soule to a local funeral home Friday evening. Over the weekend, the Kelli J’s bow was decorated with flowers in Soule’s honor, as hundreds left condolence messages responding to online news stories announcing that his body had been recovered.
An extensive air and sea search was launched for the missing vessel starting the afternoon of May 19 after Soule’s wife, Heather Unruh Soule, reported him overdue from a crabbing trip. The Pacific County Sheriff’s Office tentatively located the vessel on May 20 on the bay’s bottom near where Soule had been crabbing, but an initial follow-up was unsuccessful.
Midday on May 22, using side-scan radar another boat crew contracted by the insurance company located an object resting below 40-feet of water and on the bottom in the same general area as the sheriff’s Sunday find, where an oil sheen, life ring and crab pots were found floating May 19.
Coast Guard Sector Columbia River investigators are looking into the cause of the incident.
Soule was a 1997 Ilwaco High School graduate and life-long Peninsula resident. See his obituary on Page A7. In addition to Heather, he is survived by two daughters, ages 10 and 6, and his parents, Ernie and Bonnie Soule of Nahcotta.
In a vivid reminder of the dangers inherent in a sea-going life, Soule’s death came almost exactly 38 years after Heather’s grandfather, Bob Unruh, died near the Columbia River bar.
Unruh’s 28-foot commercial fishing boat was discovered under power but with no one aboard on May 31, 1980. His body was recovered by other fishermen on Aug. 17, 1980.