Coast Guard honors Triumph tragedy

A U.S. Coast Guard Honor Guard renders a 21-gun salute at the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse near Ilwaco during a memorial service.<I><BR>Official Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeff Pollinger</I>

CAPE D - The U.S. Coast Guard at Cape Disappointment remembered a 1961 accident that claimed five crew members' lives and destroyed a rare 52-foot motor lifeboat at a Jan. 12 memorial service, which included a 21-gun salute and wreath-laying ceremony at the tragedy's site, the Columbia River bar.

Coast Guard members reached the treacherous area on the motor lifeboat Triumph II, based at Station Cape Disappointment in Ilwaco, which inherited its name from the vessel lost 47 years ago. During its service life, the Triumph I was based at a former Coast Guard station at Point Adams in Oregon. But on Jan. 12, 1961, it embarked on its final search and rescue mission.

The crab boat Mermaid had lost its rudder and was foundering in the breakers off Peacock Spit.

Of four boats sent to help, a 40-foot lifeboat from Cape Disappointment was the first to sink, overcome by a monster wave. A 36-foot lifeboat scooped up the 40-footer's crew and took them to the now-retired Columbia Lightship, but their rescuers' boat sank soon after.

Meanwhile, the remaining two boats attempted to hook towlines to the struggling 38-foot crabber. As the Triumph took a turn, a rogue wave slammed into it, capsizing the 52-foot motor lifeboat. While the last lifeboat came close to success, another large breaker hit, snapping the tow line and capsizing the Mermaid.

Five of six rescuers aboard the Triumph drowned, as did the Mermaid's two-person crew, Bert and Stanley Bergman.

The Coast Guardsmen who gave their lives in the line of duty that night were:

? Petty Officer 1st Class John L. Culp

? Petty Officer 2nd Class John S. Hoban

? Seaman Ralph E. Mace

? Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph E. Petrin

? Seaman Gordon F. Sussex

Engineman Gordon Huggins was the sole survivor of the Triumph. He had been below deck when the boat rolled and was able to get out when it righted itself. He tried to start the engine, sheltered himself beside a deck structure, and was eventually washed overboard. "Within moments, after several big waves crashed over him, he felt sand under his feet and moments later beach searchers found him."

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