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Captain of Sunken Fishing Boat Hailed as Hero

A crew member of a commercial fishing boat that sank Tuesday is crediting the boat's captain with saving his life and those of the other two crew members -- but Capt. Robert Royer died.

The 75-foot Seattle-based Northern Belle went down in heavy seas in the Gulf of Alaska.

But before it did, Royer, 54, managed to make a dramatic distress call, telling the Coast Guard they "absolutely" needed help. "We are going down!" he said. "We have four persons on board. We are getting in a life raft here. We're going down."

"Our captain made it in there and sacrificed himself, I believe, to make a Mayday call for his crew," crew member Robert Jack told reporters from his hospital bed in Providence Hospital in Anchorage.

"I totally believe the captain saved our lives," he told co-anchor Harry Smith on "The Early Show" Thursday. "The captain got off the Mayday. Later on, we found out (the device), after the ship went down, did not transmit a beacon to the satellite that goes directly to Washington, D.C. The (device) was not working. So, if the captain wasn't able to give the proper longitude and latitude and send out the Mayday, there would have been no rescue, sir."

Amid the chaos, reports "Early Show" national correspondent Hattie Kauffman, Royer ordered his crew to abandon ship. It would be his last command.

Jack said, as they were abandoning ship, the boat tipped violently on its side, causing Royer to fall and suffer a fatal blow to his head. "He went down to the water and did not return for quite awhile," Jack said.

The surviving crew members watched the Northern Belle disappear into the ocean, then swam around to fight off hypothermia in the frigid waters. It would be more than three hours before the Coast Guard arrived.

A raft was dropped from an HC-130 Hercules aircraft before a helicopter was flown in to pick up the stranded crew of two men and one woman.

The rescue, and the Mayday call, were caught on tape.

The cause of the accident is being investigated.