- 1 Some deaths were unexpected
- 2 The Ocean Challenger crew
- 3 Captain Phil Harris
- 4 Justin Tennison
- 5 Chelsea Anderson and Dr. Keith Anderson
- 6 Joe McMahon
- 7 Captain Tony Lara
- 8 The crew of Eagle III
- 9 Matthew Schneider
- 10 The crew of F/V Destination
- 11 Captain Blake Painter
- 12 Mahlon Reyes
- 13 Nick McGlashan
- 14 Todd Kochutin
- 15 Kyle Craig
- 16 Francis Katungin
- 17 Devon Davis
- 18 Ross Jones
- 19 Snefryd Hansen
- 20 Mike McCollum
It’s unsurprising that over a dozen tragedies and deaths occurred since “Deadliest Catch,” a reality TV show about Alaskan crab fishermen, premiered on 12 April 2005. The title indicates that a wrong move aboard one of the crab fishing vessels, primarily in the Bering Sea, could lead to severe injury or a fatality. The risk, combined with the charismatic personalities of cast members, from captains to deckhands, is one of the reasons that the show premiered its 19th season on 18 April 2023, and shows no signs of stopping.
The boat’s deck is wet or frozen and thus slippery, which is dangerous enough. However, deckhands must constantly lean over the edge to observe or help pull-up the cage with crabs, called a crab pot, out of the water. An even more dangerous part starts when the crab trap passes the edge. The boat’s heavy machinery pulls the cage, which can weigh up to 800lbs or 360kgs, across the deck to the area designated for unloading and storing crabs so that the crew can reuse it. With such a hectic environment and so much money at stake, focusing on efficiency while being careless can be lethal. The cage can easily hit a crew member, push them onto an object or overboard, or smash into them.
Moreover, the ship may hit an iceberg or another vessel, run into an arctic storm, or begin malfunctioning and capsize. The US Coast Guard knows that, so their ships and aircraft are always ready to go. Regardless, Alaskan crab fishing accounts for over 300 deaths yearly per 100,000 people, 80% of which are caused by hypothermia or drowning. We’ve listed noteworthy incidents involving cast members, producers, and their families that resulted in injury or death.
Some deaths were unexpected
While the death toll from sea catastrophes that consumed fishing vessels is high, most people connected to “Deadliest Catch” died in isolated incidents outside of work. They had a heart attack, a drug problem, were murdered, or passed away off-camera in undisclosed circumstances. That shouldn’t encourage viewers to disregard the perils of the occupation and relax. Many accidents aren’t reported publicly or filmed by the crew, and the US Coast Guard has undoubtedly saved many lives through rapid and masterful operations since 2005.
The Ocean Challenger crew
The disaster that befell fishing vessel F/V Ocean Challenger was an early reminder that the cast members were real people in near-constant danger. Although it was nowhere near as large as other fishing vessels, as it only carried four men, its capsizing in October 2006 was tragic regardless.
The boat was fishing for black cod when it sank for unknown reasons, although the US Coast Guard reportedly measured waves as high as 20ft or 6m, and 25-knot winds.
The rescue of the only surviving crew member, Kevin Ferrell, was the topic of the show’s third season. He was the only one wearing a survival suit; David “Cowboy” Hasselquist and Water Foster were found in the water, but it was too late for them. Steve Esparza was initially a missing person, but was eventually found deceased.
Captain Phil Harris
Captain Phil Harris was the earliest member of the main cast who passed away; he joined the show during the second season in 2006. He captained F/V Cornelia Marie and would’ve died on it midway through the sixth season if it weren’t for instantaneous medical assistance. Phil suffered a stroke on 29 January 2010 in Saint Paul Island, Alaska. He was offloading the opilio crab when he felt weak. Sensing that his end could be near, he kept talking to his sons, Joshua and Jacob, deckhands on the ship.
Although the producers considered stopping the filming, Phil told them to keep the camera rolling. He was flown to Anchorage for a surgical operation to decrease cranial blood pressure, as doctors discovered that he had an intracranial hemorrhage or bleeding inside his skull. Cameras were also rolling in the hospital at Phil’s insistence.
He awoke from the operation, reportedly shaking hands, talking, and visibly getting better. Unfortunately, Captain Phil passed away on 9 February 2010 in the hospital. There were some prior signs; a work injury 2008 caused what seemed like a broken rib. However, after he continued to cough blood and couldn’t recover, his sons urged him to seek medical attention. His doctors discovered that he had a pulmonary embolism, a life-threatening condition when a blood clot blocks the artery in the lungs. Although Captain Phil was recovering throughout 2009, which kept him away from his boat, it seemed like a blood clot may have remained or reformed, blocking blood and oxygen flow to the brain and causing his untimely death.
Justin Tennison was best known as one of the deckhands who worked on F/V Time Bandit during season seven. Unfortunately, he died far away from the ship, despite being surrounded by friends and crewmates. He had wrapped up the fishing season in February 2011 and headed to a hotel in Homer, Alaska, after landing in the port.
The crew had fun hanging out before Justin went to sleep. He failed to respond to texts and calls the next day, so they rang the police, who found him unresponsive on 22 February 2011. They spotted liquor, beer, and a bit of marihuana in his hotel room, so they initially assumed that his consumption contributed to his passing. However, doctors later concluded that the father of two died at 33 from complications tied to his sleep apnea.
His cousin Eddie said that ‘Justin wished to be cremated and taken out to the water for one long trip because he loved Alaska, hunting, and fishing.’ His crew remarked, ‘Justin was tough as a bull and an all-around good hand. The captains and crew appreciated his hard work and contributions this past year.’ They also revealed that he left behind a sister, father, and grandparents.
Chelsea Anderson and Dr. Keith Anderson
Jake Anderson, the F/V Saga Captain, had endured two tragedies in a short period. His sister, Chelsea, died from complications caused by pneumonia in 2009 while Jake was filming the fifth season.
He was beginning to recover and accept the pain, but then his father, Dr. Keith Anderson, disappeared under mysterious conditions on 6 January 2010, and only his truck, a 1999 Ford Ranger, was found – his wife, Jake’s mother said that it was the only night that they’d spent apart. A hiker found the doctor’s remains in June 2012 in a remote Skagit County area. Jake admitted that his father briefly had a pain medication addiction, but that he’d overcome it. Thus, he believes that someone murdered him. Jake shipped his father’s ashes to Norway, from where Keith had emigrated.
The first tragedy to affect the show’s producers rather than a cast member happened in the early hours of 24 July 2015. Joseph “Joe” McMahon was murdered in front of his parents’ house in Pasadena, California, at age 25. He was found on the driveway and immediately pronounced dead from gunshots. It seemed that the killer wouldn’t be found, but the police located an abandoned car nearby during their investigation. Inside was 24-year-old Brandon Raflepour, dead from an evidently self-inflicted gunshot wound. They connected them, but didn’t reveal the motive for the killing. Joe’s father, Tom, wrote an essay for the Moms Demand Action organization to stop gun violence and said that Brandon was Joe’s old high school friend.
— The Mirror (@DailyMirror) July 25, 2015
Captain Tony Lara
Captain Tony Lara gained prominence in the seventh season, and was a fan favorite when he became a skipper on F/V Cornelia Marie during her primary captain, Phil Harris’ absence. However, Tony died on solid ground. He attended an annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, in August 2015. After the event, he headed to a private residence, reportedly suffered a heart attack, and died in his sleep.
The hospital pronounced Tony dead at 50 on 8 August 2015 – doctors found no signs of foul play. The fishing vessel’s crew posted their last goodbye, ‘No conversation was cut short. No call unreturned. When Cornelia Marie needed him, he was quick to respond. He offered his support and his advice; he taught and educated. Tony made us all just a little bit better.’
The crew of Eagle III
Many fans are unaware of the tragedy of the Eagle III fishing vessel. In a 2016 episode entitled “Lost at Sea,” the third of the six in the first and only season of the “Deadliest Catch: Dungeon Cove” spin-off, viewers could grieve three crew members, Danny Matlock, 37, Blaine Steinmetz, 52, and Josh Paulus, 31. The storm on 19 January 2016 caught up to their ship, which capsized in Coos Bay, thanks to winds of 30mph or 48kmh and waves 10ft or 3m high.
Only one person survived, Captain Glenn Burkhow, John’s father-in-law. He managed to stay afloat and swam to the shore. Unfortunately, that was only the beginning of his struggle. Glenn had to walk 4.5 miles or 7kms to civilization while freezing, thirsty, hungry, and exhausted.
Matthew J. Schneider, 22, was the show’s production manager, arrested in an undercover sting by police in Unalaska, Alaska, in September 2016. They charged him with using and selling cocaine, but he was released and escaped to California. The police later discovered that his supervisor in the show occasionally bought packets of cocaine in California to distribute them at “Deadliest Catch” gatherings in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. However, no other cast members, production company employees, or contractors were part of the investigation.
The crew of F/V Destination
“Lost at Sea,” the 18th episode of the 13th season aired in August 2017, was a grim reminder of how tight schedules and pushing despite imminent danger can be deadly. It starts with the US Coast Guard frantically searching the Bering Sea for F/V Destination with six people onboard. While the filming crew wasn’t recording them, the rescuers received enough information. They knew that the ship was behind schedule and wanted to deliver a massive haul of about 200 crab pots quickly.
They ran into a heavy ice accumulation in February 2017 and could have anchored to mitigate the extra weight. Reports showed that an estimated 340,000lbs or 170 tons weighed the vessel at one point. Captain Jeff Hathaway thought that they could push through the ice and stay on schedule, but the excessive weight capsized his vessel. He died alongside Kai Hamik, Darrik Seibold, Charles G. Jones, and Larry O’Grady. Raymond Vincler also lost his life in the accident, and the government agency recommended civil penalties against the boat’s owner, David Wilson, for not providing accurate information to the captain.
Captain Blake Painter
Blake Painter initially worked as an engineer on F/V Maverick before becoming its captain. His state of mind became worrying in early 2018; in January, he was arrested in Astoria, Oregon, for driving under the influence. Although he seemingly bounced back, he went silent in May. After several days of not responding to anyone’s messages or calls, a close friend performed a welfare check on 25 May and found him unresponsive. The police officers concluded that he’d been dead for a few days and immediately suspected that drug paraphernalia on his body, including a metal mint tin with heroin or methamphetamine, and around the home caused his unfortunate death at 38. News later reported that he most likely accidentally overdosed on heroin.
Mahlon Reyes was a deckhand on several fishing vessels, who debuted in the show in 2012. Viewers saw him most often when he worked aboard Seabroke and Cape Caution. Although dangerous, life at sea didn’t contribute to his death; Mahlon died in July 2020, but no one knew how or why until January of the following year. An autopsy revealed that he passed away from acute cocaine intoxication, and the amounts suggested that he accidentally overdosed at 38. Flathead County, Montana sheriff and a coroner later confirmed that Mahlon survived the heart attack ‘brought on by a powerful stimulant, but that he never regained consciousness after being placed on life support.’
Nick McGlashan was another crew member who fell prey to the temptations of drugs. He was a seventh-generation fisherman named after his uncle, and a deck boss on F/V Summer Bay who appeared in over 78 episodes after he debuted in 2013. As with other substance abuse cases, his death happened off-camera; Discovery Channel suspended him from one half of season 13 for that reason.
Nick admitted that he’d struggled for a while, and that at his worst, he consumed 0.5 gallons or nearly 2 liters of vodka and took 2g of heroin and 1g of meth daily. However, Nick evidently had a wake-up call and went into rehab in September 2016 after being suspended; he said that he’d overdosed three times previously, but had been sober after the therapy.
He told Chosen Magazine that he ‘went from Bering Sea badass to full-blown junkie rapidly, and that my passion for life disappeared.’ He admitted, ‘I was at war with my addiction, and it was winning. My mind, body, and spirit were so diseased that I tragically welcomed my death.’ He seemingly returned as a cast member, but things came crashing down on 27 December 2020.
He was found dead at 33, in a hotel bathroom in Nashville, Tennessee – police immediately spotted drug paraphernalia nearby. His autopsy revealed that he died from ‘a toxic mix of cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine.’ Nick’s death was the topic of a two-hour episode, in which captains Sig Hansen and “Wild” Bill Wichrowski, with their respective crews, explained how they found out. Every boat in the show came together for a special tear-jerking tribute on the water; they threw his hook into the water for the last time, and set off all expired flares. Nick had two children, and the crews promised to help them.
Todd Kochutin is part of a tragic statistic of onboard deaths, and his passing is still fresh in everyone’s mind. He worked as a deckhand on F/V Patricia Lee and had a hectic day on 26 February 2021, during the show’s 18th season. At one point, he failed to move out of the way of a crab pot, and it smashed into him. Todd survived the ordeal but was in a lot of pain; some crewmates administered help until the medics that Captain Bill Wichrowski called arrived.
Most of the crews found out what happened and who was injured with a delay, as they relied on radio communications. Unfortunately, they also heard via radio that Todd took his last breath shortly after the medic began caring for him.
Todd’s obituary revealed that he had no living close family members, as his parents, Deanna and Robert, brother Dwayne, and sister, Ayla, preceded him in death. Todd was buried on 22 March 2021 at Saint Peter and Paul Orthodox Church on Saint Paul Island.
Kyle Craig wasn’t a prominent cast member, but appeared in many episodes between 2016 and 2019’ he was Captain Sean Dwyer’s deckhand on the Brenna A fishing vessel. He passed away suddenly on 17 July 2021 at 37, but the cause was never publicly revealed. Kyle’s obituary showed that he remained a commercial fisherman, after 2019 and enjoyed trout fishing and tailgating. He also loved his dogs, parents, wife and ae daughter. His death would’ve flown under the radar if it weren’t for one 2022 episode of the “Deadliest Catch: Bloodline” spin-off.
Francis Katungin narrowly escaped death in an episode that aired on 26 April 2022. A crab pot hit him, las it did Todd, but not because he was careless. Instead, a rogue wave smashed into F/V Patricia Lee, loosening the crap pot, and pinning Francis into the ship’s railing. Crew members, Captain Rip Carlton, and even the show’s off-camera producer, Todd Stanley, rushed to free him. They concluded that Francis had a broken pelvis and hip, and kept him stationary during a 16-hour journey to meet the US Coast Guard. That proved difficult because of an arctic storm, so Francis had to be transferred by helicopter. He survived, but there were no updates on his condition.
Rip Carlton needed a crew member to fill Francis’ spot, so they hired a rookie, Devon Davis. At the beginning of the season, Rip told everyone that ‘it was their redemption trip and that they would try to get through it without anything happening.’ He even addressed Davis: ‘The most important thing is just safety, right? Devon, it’s your first time on the boat, don’t get hurt.’
Unfortunately, he jinxed him, and the opposite happened in May 2022. Devon took a powerful blow to the head, though it was unclear what hit him as the incident happened when the filming crew was absent. Another crewmember used the radio to call help, and told the captain that Devon was unconscious and spitting blood. Devon survived and later posted images of a fishing trip to Sitka, Alaska, on Facebook, suggesting that he suffered no permanent injuries.
Ross Jones, a crew member on F/V Saga, passed away on or around 22 June 2022 – his death was announced via fan-made Facebook group Deadliest Catch World. The cause of death remains unknown, but he left behind wife Chloe and a son. Captain Jake Anderson shared a photo of him on the fishing vessel and wrote, “I loved Ross Jones. He’s standing in the green. You made me piss my pants on many occasions. TO VALHALLA!”
The mother of F/V Northwestern Captain Sign Hansen, Snefryd Hansen, passed away at 83 on 20 October 2022. Discovery Channel covered her death in an episode of the 19th season aired on 3 May 2023, showing her funeral with red roses atop her casket. Sig didn’t explain his mother’s medical history, but said that she was in pain, so he facilitated hospice care on his ship. Sig and his daughter were beside her, and she was on morphine during her last days. Snefryd’s obituary said that she left three sons and five grandchildren behind, and loved shopping, crocheting, needlepoint, and gardening.
Although Mike McCollum didn’t appear in the show, his emotional send-off was the topic of the 19th season’s episode seven. His son, deckhand Jesse McCollum, had been having trouble sleeping while working aboard F/V Time Bandit. He eventually broke down and told Captain Johnathan Hillstrand that he was putting off spreading his father’s ashes for a while, but that he finally felt ready. Johnathan knew Mike; he was his best friend from high school and had worked as the ship’s engineer.
Before they gave Mike the funeral-at-sea that he wanted, Johnathan announced, ‘Jesse, I love your dad. He’s my best friend; this is hard to do. I’m sorry this took me this long; I haven’t had the courage to do it. This is going to be hard to do.’ A deckhand rang a bell as they spread the ashes, while another pointed out that Mike would yell at them to get back to work. That broke the tension, and made everyone smile.