March 22, 2017 — The six men lost when their crabbing boat sank on a cold morning in the Bering Sea last month were declared legally dead at an unusual court proceeding Monday, allowing heartbroken families to take a first step toward closure and settling their loved ones’ affairs.
The proceeding, known as a presumptive death hearing, is a kind of mini-trial held to determine whether a missing person can be declared dead. They are often held in the cases of people who have disappeared in such extreme terrain as to have exhausted the chances of survival or recovery.
The fishing vessel Destination sank 3 miles north of St. George Island on the morning of Feb. 11, just before starting the winter snow crab season. The bodies of the men aboard — captain Jeff Hathaway and crew members Kai Hamik, Darrik Seibold, Larry O’Grady, Raymond Vincler and Charles G. Jones — have not been found.
Without the recovery of a body, the families of the men can’t get the death certificates necessary to resolve a host of legal issues such as claiming survivors benefits or administering estates. That’s where the presumptive death hearing comes in.
Hearings like the one Monday are relatively rare in Alaska. Last year there were 20 statewide, according to the Alaska Court System.