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The Patty AJ just happened to be about a quarter-mile from the fishing vessel Randi when disaster struck.

'They went up on a swell and came down sideways," Ron Silva, the Patty AJ's captain, said of the Randi, which went down Monday afternoon about three miles off the Coos Bay jetty.

Silva and his crew of six flew into action.

As Silva sent out a mayday call, the Randi went down. It sunk within seconds.

'When they go, they go," he said.

Silva knew he had to act fast, but with caution, lest he put his own crew in danger. He called out for help from the Coast Guard and any other vessel in the area.

'I said, 'Get here, I don't know what I'm dealing with,'" Silva said.

Silva could see two fishermen in the water clinging to crab pots.

He swung his ship around so the Patty AJ was downcurrent from the sinking ship, something he learned during Coast Guard training. The position allowed him more control over the boat, and any survivors in the water would naturally drift toward him.

Before he could make any other movements, a component of the Patty AJ caught on one of the Randi's crab pots, anchoring him to that spot.

Silva called to the Coast Guard, saying his mobility was limited. But the accident ended up working in his favor.

By this time, the two fishermen in the water were clinging to the shell of the Randi's life raft, which had not yet inflated.

Silva's crew threw life rings to the two men, one younger and one older. The young man, Seth Smith, was able to swim, but the older man, Bruce Potts, had become hypothermic in the 51 degree water.

Smith got a ring around Potts and helped him to the side of the Patty AJ, where the crew hauled him out of the water.

Potts had somehow thrown on a life jacket before the Randi went down, which saved his life, Silva said. Once the hypothermia set in, Potts had no control over his arms or legs.

Seeing Potts' declining state, Silva radioed the Coast Guard for a helicopter to fly him to Bay Area Hospital, as the crew grabbed dry clothes and blankets.

They asked how many fishermen were aboard the sunk vessel. Smith said three: One had been trapped in the house.

Silvera radioed the Coast Guard and the responding fishing vessels -- there were five other ships nearby now -- to search for the missing man.

'He was trapped in the house, but sometimes they can fight free," Silva said, his face clenched to hold back tears.

Jim Peterson, the missing fisherman, was not found. The Coast Guard called off the search shortly after 10 p.m. Monday night because the time elapsed had exceeded the life expectancy of someone lost at sea.

Potts was flown to the hospital, where he recovered from the hypothermia, Silva said. Smith is also doing well, he added.

The experience left Silva and his crew shaken. He gave the crew the day off Tuesday to reflect and decompress.

'It seemed like hours, but the Coast Guard was there real quick," Silva said. The hospital determined one of the fishermen was in the water for seven minutes, the other for nine, he added.

'We're not the heroes," Silva said. 'It was just our turn."

Reporter Jessie Higgins can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 240, or


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