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Years after rescue, local connection to sub resurfaces

Oct 21 2012
Dana Gudbrand with a pin and signed photo given to him by the crew of the submarine Pogy. 

Dana Gudbrand with a pin and signed photo given to him by the crew of the submarine Pogy.

Photograph by: Darren Stone, Times Colonist , Times Colonist

Dana Gudbrand of Victoria clearly remembers his short-lived career as a fishboat deckhand because it ended abruptly, when the 12.5-metre troller Sand Dollar caught fire and sank in the Strait of Georgia.

Hours later, Gudbrand and skipper Randy Wagner were rescued by the American submarine Pogy in the only such rescue its crew can remember.

A brief account of the sinking and rescue near Nanaimo was carried in the Times Colonist on May 15, 1982. A clipping of that item was emailed to the paper last week by a former sub crew member.

Lawrence Sibiski, who lives in Maryland, said the submarine crew is planning a reunion in September 2014. He was hoping the paper could locate Gudbrand and Wagner so they could also attend.

"It's something where I think they would enjoy us as much as we would enjoy them," Sibiski said. "It was a very unusual event for us. I can't think that we saved anybody else but those two."

Gudbrand, 49, works in the food services department at the University of Victoria. Thirty years may have passed, but Gudbrand said he remembers the event "very vividly."

Gudbrand and Wagner, who owned the ship, set off to go fishing on the afternoon of May 13, 1982.

The Sand Dollar was in the middle of the strait at about midnight when fire broke out in the engine compartment, he said.

"As soon as my skipper pulled the hatch, the wheel house filled with black smoke," he recalled. "We couldn't put a distress call out because the fire killed all the electricals."

Wagner had a bad cut on his hand from punching the glass in the cabin to reach the hand-held backup radio. But the radio didn't have batteries in it.

The pair climbed into a two-metre dinghy and abandoned ship, taking some flares and paddles with them. They paddled around the boat thinking another mariner would see the flames and fireballs shooting more than 20 metres in the air.

Gudbrand said the memory that has stayed with him is Wagner trying to keep spirits up with jokes.

"But there were tears streaming down his cheeks while his boat was burning," he said. "He had nothing left."

They paddled toward Nanaimo, said Gudbrand. In the morning, fog obscured the horizon.

Gudbrand and Wagner were in the small boat for nine hours before they saw a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Pogy, approach them.

The crew brought the two men on board and gave them hot coffee until a coast guard hovercraft based in Parksville could come and pick them up. The submarine then continued to its destination at Nanoose Bay, where it was to undergo a degaussing, or demagnetization.

The two men were given submariners pins as mementos. Gudbrand also got an autographed photo of the sub, which was decommissioned in 1999.

Wagner, who moved to Newfoundland, couldn't be immediately located. smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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