Fishing Boat Master Missing, Crew Member Dead as White Swan III Sinks

On 12:30 am on Sunday, March 27, the US Coast Guard called off the search for Michael “Mike” John Morgan, after rescue crews had conducted more than 24 hours of thorough but unproductive searching. Morgan was the missing master of the F/V White Swan III. The boat was a 32-foot fishing vessel that had sunk in an area about 35 miles off Florence, Oregon.

Mayday Call on Friday Midnight

The 68-year-old Morgan had placed a mayday call to the Coast Guard on Friday night. It was almost midnight and he reported that his boat was sinking. His location at the time was in the northern part of the Heceta Banks. This is a known fishing area and a rocky bank that is approximately 35 miles off the coast of Oregon. It is also just about the same place where the rescue crew would find the vessel later on. Watchstanders at the North Bend Sector of the Coast Guard received the mayday call from Morgan.

Shortly after getting the distress call, a 47-ft Motor Lifeboat from the Siuslaw River Station of the Coast Guard responded. According to the Coast Guard in their official news release, the crew of the Motor Lifeboat arrived quickly at the scene. However, they only found a debris field.

Crew Member Found Dead

The news release also announced that early on Saturday morning, the Coast Guard had recovered a woman near the site of the accident who was unresponsive. Further investigation revealed that the woman was a regular crew member of the White Swan III. She was onboard the vessel on what would turn out to be its last maritime journey. The woman’s name was Billie and she had gone out to sea with Morgan on Thursday, March 24. They kept fishing around the spot where the vessel eventually sank.

Later on during the day, emergency crews pronounced Billie dead. Despite this tragic development, rescue crews continued their search for Morgan. They kept searching all through Saturday and well into the evening of Sunday, covering an area of over 230 square miles.

As of this writing, no further word has been released as to the reason for the sinking of the boat or the accountability for the accident. It’s possible that there could be issues involved such as unseaworthy equipment, crew fatigue, or maybe even Force Majeure. In any case, further developments have yet to be reported.

Rescue Team Volunteers

Aside from the Siuslaw River Motor Lifeboat that first arrived on the scene, the rescue team also included several other volunteers. There was another 47-ft Motor Lifeboat from the Coast Guard’s Umpqua River Station and the 110-ft Coast Guard Cutter Orcas. Several Coast Guard aircraft also participated in the search. The list includes the Coast Guard Sector Columbia River MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews, the Sector North Bend MH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter crews, and the Air Facility Newport MH-65 dolphin rescue helicopter crew. Also instrumental during the search were the Coast Guard Sector North Bend and the 13th Coast Guard District Command Center.

Although no one certainly wants to give up, the Coast Guard finally made the difficult decision to suspend the search for Morgan on Sunday. According to Scott Giard, the manager of the Coast Guard Search and Rescue Program, “The decision to suspend an active search and rescue case is never easy, and it’s only made after careful consideration of myriad factors.”

He further reached out to the families of Morgan and the deceased female crew. “Our thoughts and condolences are with the families throughout this unimaginably challenging time.”

A Small Family Business

Morgan was not only the master of the F/V White Swan III but was also the owner of a small family fishing business that he operated with his wife, Elizabeth, for more than two decades. He regularly went out on his boat to fish for albacore tuna and Chinook salmon. Before heading back, he would report the catch to his wife, who would then take orders from the community. Morgan would then set up at Dock A at South Beach of Newport upon his return, where they would sell the rest of their catch directly to the public.

Morgan was quite a well-loved personality in the fishing community. Many of his customers were regular patrons who bought tuna from them each year during tuna season.

Morgan is originally from Oakland, California. His parents were Jack and Beth Morgan. His father was a Lieutenant Colonel of the US Coast Guard. Morgan was the oldest of 3 siblings. When he was 12 years old, his family moved to Newport, Oregon where his father was stationed. Morgan is survived by his wife Elizabeth, daughter Liz, son Robert, sister Patty Straight and grandson Miles.

Legal Assistance for Maritime Accidents

Establishing liability for boat accidents can be a great challenge especially if there are no witnesses to provide clarity. But there are certainly maritime laws that you can rely on for obtaining justice and closure for such incidents. If you have experienced an accident at sea and would like to get legal advice on what your options are, our extensively experienced attorneys here at O’Bryan Law can help. Just get in touch with us and we will gladly take a look to see what your best move can be.