Explosion and fire sink a commercial fishing boat in Alaska

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An explosion at a dock in Alaska spread fire to a nearby fishing boat that then sank, leaving one person aboard missing, the U.S. Coast Guard said Monday.

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Crews were using a boat and helicopter to scour the ocean around the dock for the missing person, the Coast Guard said in a statement.

According to officials, the explosion happened on a fixed barge and fire then spread to the pier and the 99-foot commercial fishing vessel.

Initial reports were that two people were aboard the fishing vessel at the time. But Whittier, Alaska, police told the Coast Guard that one of the two was on a different boat and is safe.

The Coast Guard established a 100-yard (91-meter) safety zone to keep other boats away from the fire and search area.

The fishing boat, which had the capacity to carry about 5,500 gallons (20,820 liters) of fuel, sank in 85 feet (25 meters) of water, the Coast Guard said. A salvage crew has been hired by the vessel's owner.

Brian Hicks, the Whittier Fire Department's chief, told the Coast Guard that personnel from Whittier Fire Department, Whittier Police Department, Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel Fire Department and Girdwood Fire Department all responded to the scene. The dock is operated by the city of Whittier.

The cause of the explosion is under investigation.

Kelly Bender and her family own a Whittier-based charter. Bender told the Anchorage Daily News that she heard the explosion.

Bender said her husband and son, who is an Anchorage firefighter, jumped into their boat to help.

"They were able to get close enough and throw a grappling hook, about 40 feet," Bender said. "They were able to just pull it off the dock to prevent more damage. I guess the boat sunk pretty quickly."

They joined other vessels in a search for missing people, she said. No one was seen.

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An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported who operates the dock and the size of the safety zone.

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Information from: Anchorage Daily News, http://www.adn.com