Alumnus missing in Pacific Ocean

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Story by Emily Gresbrink and Emily Albrent

“It’s hard to describe. He’s just gone … I guess I’m just still so saddened about it.”

Chris Floyd, a biology professor, spoke of Chris Langel, a 2009 UW-Eau Claire graduate who went missing on March 10 in the middle of the night when his boat, the 70-foot vessel Lady Cecelia, sank into the Pacific Ocean 17 miles off the coast of Washington.

“I just took my students on a field trip and I told them, ‘I feel like Chris should be here,’” Floyd said, while looking at Langel’s Facebook page. “I know he graduated in 2009, but I feel like he should be here. It’s like if one of you weren’t here next time.”

Langel’s Facebook wall is covered with faculty, friends and family expressing grief over the sudden loss of their student, classmate and friend. Messages carrying sentiments of “too soon,” “we miss you so much” and “you will never be forgotten” repeat over and over again.


The disappearance

Langel, along with three other crewmen, remain missing after being sent on an excursion to the west coast with the Alaska-based company, Saltwater Inc.

According to The Seattle Times, the ship went down so abruptly that there was no time for a distress call to be manually sent. The SOS signal was sent to the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, a device that sits atop the boat’s roof that sounds an alarm when it comes in contact with water.

The signal was reached at a Coast Guard station in Warrenton, Ore., at 3:37 a.m. on March 10. After the signal was reached, a Coast Guard helicopter located the spot where the call came from and flew over the area. All that was left was oil and a life raft.

The search was suspended on March 11 with the notion that the men were dead. The ship’s disappearance is still undergoing investigation.

According to the Saltwater Inc. website, since 1988 the company has been an industry leader in the design and implementation of fishery and marine mammal observer programs. Every year the company hires over 250 marine observers who collect fishery data for many public, private, and foundation clients.

As stated in the Leader-Telegram by Saltwater Inc CEO Tim Carroll, “Saltwater has had vessel incidents in the North Pacific before, but we have never lost an observer,” he said. “This is extremely rare that this would happen.”

However, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states in a Commercial Fishing Safety article from 2011 that commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs with extremely high fatalities. More than half of all of the deaths occurred from a vessel disaster.

“I don’t think it’s any more dangerous than rush hour in Seattle,” Floyd said, “but it’s definitely rough — you’re in a boat off the coast of Oregon and those are some big waves, even the best surfers in the world can’t handle those. But yet, I think this thing is not terribly unusual, even for these huge vessels to disappear.”


Remembering a star student

Langel studied ecology and environmental biology during his time at Eau Claire and left a lasting impact on the biology department, working at the reef fish tanks and performing well in classes, Floyd said.

He added that Langel quickly found work and started a career on boats in the Pacific waters, most likely working his way up to working in the fishing industry.

Floyd, who was Langel’s former advisor during college, remembers seeing his final Facebook post and not hearing much until the boat went down — the first post of his disappearance came from Langel’s father.

“If you look at what people are writing, people are heartbroken,” Floyd said. “It’s just so sad … obviously when you lose someone, it’s a natural response to be shocked, he was so young.”

He stopped to look at pictures of Langel at work, spending time with friends and the dozens of sentiments left behind. He closed the computer window and paused to think.

“Chris was amazingly energetic. He just loved living. And when he started applying that personality to classes, that’s where I got to notice him and follow him,” he said. “He’s like my own son in some ways, because I watched his progression. We (the biology department) all feel the same way. We’re heartbroken.”