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Crew Unable to Reach Emergency Equipment, Mate Testifies

May 23, 1986

BALTIMORE (AP) _ The first mate of the Pride of Baltimore testified Friday that the city’s goodwill schooner sank so quickly that the crew could not reach most of the emergency equipment.

The Coast Guard also announced it was calling off the search for four missing crew members.

″As the ship filled up, we tried to get to the rafts but the tiller was swamped,″ John Flanagan told a Coast Guard panel investigating the shipwreck.

When the life rafts did surface, they were blown away and another life raft blew a valve, he said recounting the harrowing experience that began on a day that started out overcast but not particularly threatening.

The 9-year-old tall ship capsized May 14 in a sudden squall about 240 miles north of Puerto Rico, stranding eight crew members aboard a life raft for 4 1/ 2 days and leaving four missing. The ship was returning to its home port after a European tour and had recently left from St. John’s in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Coast Guard in Miami called off the search for the missing crew members Friday, pending further developments.

″A combined effort by the Coast Guard, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps has come up with negative sightings in a five-day search that has covered an area of over 500,000 square miles of ocean,″ the Coast Guard said in a statement.

Flanagan said the crew was prepared for emergencies. There were harnesses to hold the crew to the boat, in addition to life jackets.

″You never leave the boat until the boat leaves you,″ he said. ″That was something that was drilled into me as a kid.″

Flanagan, the first witness in the Coast Guard inquiry, testified a day late because of a dispute over television coverage of the hearing.

Cmdr. John Maxham recessed the hearing Thursday because WDVM-TV and WRC-TV, both of Washington, protested the Coast Guard’s ban against videotaping the Pride’s eight survivors.

WDVM-TV decided Friday to drop its protest after Coast Guard representatives explained that they had ″made a commitment to the witnesses″ to prohibit cameras, said Stephen Langhoff, the station’s attorney.

Molly Pauker, an attorney for WRC-TV, said the station still wanted to work out an arrangement to accommodate camera coverage but would not delay the hearing.

On Friday afternoon, cameramen obeyed Coast Guard instructions to remove their equipment.

Lt. Cmdr. T.C. Healey, a Coast Guard spokesman, said other crew members would testify, as well as representatives of the Pride of Baltimore Inc., the non-profit group that operated the ship, and the ship’s architect and designers. The hearing is expected to last about a week.

Coast Guard inspection of the Pride of Baltimore had not been required because it did not carry passengers and its 12-member crew was not required to hold Coast Guard licenses.

The Pride, which was used to promote tourism, was a two-masted ship, constructed in the style of the great Chesapeake Bay clipper schooners of the mid-19th century.

The eight surviving crew members received a heroes’ welcome Wednesday when they returned after nearly five days in a cramped life raft.

Two of the eight were in good condition at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

A Norwegian freighter rescued the survivors Monday after spotting their flashlight distress signal. Still missing are the ship’s captain, Armin E. Elsaesser, 42, of South Dartmouth, Mass., and engineer, Vincent Lazaro of West Redding, Conn. They were last seen alive when the ship went down.

Two other crew members are presumed dead.

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