There’s no way to deny the impact that Discovery’s “Deadliest Catch” has had on the reality TV genre. Besides being on air for over a decade, starting a highly successful franchise and on top of all winning several awards, “Deadliest Catch” gained everyone’s hearts by letting its audience access meaningful insight into the life of the crews on board of the fishing vessels cruising the Bering Sea.
While the good times and adventures that “Deadliest Catch” have given us are not to forget, there’s also many heart wrenching and tragic moments which surely marked the show’s cast and weren’t easily forgotten by the most loyal viewers.
So what are “Deadliest Catch”’s saddest moments? Keep with us to know what were the moments which broke the audience’s hearts, including the sinking of some vessels, the personal tragedies of the cast members, and so much more!
Jake Anderson’s Family Tragedy
One of the earliest tragedies to hit “Deadliest Catch” were the unfortunate events surrounding the passing of two members of Jake Anderson’s family.
In the fifth season, “Deadliest Catch” viewers saw the moment in which Jake, who was then a Northwestern’s deckhand, was told his sister Chelsea had just died of pneumonia. Chelsea had struggled her entire life with Rheumatoid Arthritis, a disorder which besides taking a toll on her physically and mentally, also worsened her health condition before she died at 37 years old in February 2009.
Unfortunately, life had another misfortune in store for Jake. As seen during the show’s sixth season, Jake’s father Keith Anderson disappeared in Washington after he went out to presumably buy painkillers to quench his depression, resulting from his daughter Chelsea’s death: ‘he always took care of her, and he never liked to see kids hurt. He would rather be the one hurting,’ said Jake in an interview with Perez Hilton at the time. Some weeks after his disappearance, Keith’s truck was found in a logging road without signs of him whatsoever.
It wasn’t until 2012 that his remains were found near the place his truck was found two years prior in Skagit County, putting a sad end note to this prolonged family tragedy.
Justin Tennison’s Death
Although Justin Tenninson was a deckhand on the Time Bandit, he didn’t have a lot of time on air. After barely one year in “Deadliest Catch”, Justin was found dead in the off-fishing season in an Alaskan hotel in February 2011. The news was announced through the show’s official website, on which his former crew and cast mates described him as ‘tough as a bull and was an all-around good hand’.
Justin’s death was caused by ‘complications of sleep apnea’, though the police reported that the marijuana and alcohol bottles found in his hotel room signaled that a party had taken place there the previous night. Nonetheless, the hotel’s staff couldn’t clear up what had happened that night, according to ABC News.
Regardless of his dramatic death, Justin apparently loved Alaska and life in general: ‘He loved hunting and fishing and everything about it. He loved his kids tremendously,’ his cousin Eddie Uwekoolani told ABC News.
Following Justin’s last wishes, he was cremated, and his ashes spread on the Bering Sea.
Tony Lara & Joe McMahon’s Deaths
While the unfortunate deaths of some “Deadliest Catch” stars occurred when they were active in the show, the cases of Tony Lara and Joe McMahon are different.
Tony Lara’s passing happened sometime after leaving the show; he was seen captaining the Cornelia Marie during “Deadliest Catch” seventh season but left soon after. Though it’s not clear where he worked following his exit from the show in 2011, he was visiting South Dakota for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally when he suffered a cardiac arrest, dying at 50 years old on 8 August 2015. His former co-worker and apprentice Josh Harris described Tony as a close and supportive friend of his family: ‘He offered his support and his advice. He taught and he educated. At the end of the day, Tony made all of us just a little bit better.’
Only two weeks after Tony’s death, “Deadliest Catch” went through another loss when Joe McMahon was shot to death in California. Though McMahon wasn’t a known name for the audience, he had recently worked as an associate producer of the show’s ninth season, and was only 24 years at the time of his death.
Joshua Tel Warner’s Arrest
Although the arrest of someone who committed several crimes is not considered heartbreaking, it’s always sad to see the downfall of someone we are used to seeing on TV.
This is the case of Joshua Tel Warner, who on 31 December 2009 was arrested by Oregon’s Police for several bank robberies he had allegedly committed in past years. Interestingly enough, Joshua was actually reported as the culprit of said crimes by some show viewers, who recognized him from his warrant order.
Joshua already knew the dangers of appearing on TV as a wanted criminal.
Following reports of his former crew mates on the Wizard, Joshua often admitted to having a troublesome past which would most-likely resurface. According to Oregon’s Detective Jeff Donaca, Joshua had underestimated how far his fame could take him: ‘I don’t think you can end up on national TV, make a spectacle of yourself, and not end up getting caught for three bank robberies’.
All in all, Joshua was sentenced to nine years in jail for his crimes.
The Destination’s Sinking
One of the biggest tragedies ever showcased in “Deadliest Catch” was that of the fishing vessel The Destination, which sank near the Alaskan island St. George on 11 February 2017.
The events surrounding the capsizing of The Destination were a mystery for a long time, as its disappearance occurred without the crew even sending a mayday signal, in addition to having been regarded as one of the safest ships in the Bering Sea.
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By the time authorities found the place it apparently sunk, only debris was left and hopes of finding any survivors quickly faded.
Six people unfortunately perished in the ship, including Jeff Hathaway and Larry O’Grady, who were close friends of the Wizard’s captain Keith Colburn, who was visibly affected by the incident in a “Deadliest Catch” 13th season’s episode which documented the disappearance and initial investigations surrounding The Destination: ‘when the episode comes out, we are forced to relive what happened and be faced with the reality that it could happen to any one of us’, he told Tampa Bay Times.
Though The Destination’s remains were found 250-feet under water in August that year, a long time passed before it was finally determined it sank due to aggressive weather conditions.
Phil Harris’ Death
If there’s an event which deeply marked the cast and audience of “Deadliest Catch”, that’s definitely the death of Phil Harris, Captain of the Cornelia Marie until his death in early 2010.
Captain Harris and his ship debuted in the premiere season of “Deadliest Catch”, quickly becoming a fan favorite thanks to his cool nature and easiness to lead his crew during hardships, a job he had been doing since the 1990s.
Though for most of the time Captain Harris looked somewhat healthy, in 2008 he was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism, taking him away from the wheel of the Cornelia for a whole year.
His return to the Bering Sea in early 2009 was followed by more health issues, eventually resulting in a stroke in January of the next year. Captain Harris was taken to Anchorage, where he underwent surgery and was put into an induced coma from which he miraculously awakened. At that point his family’s hopes were high due to his incredible improvement.
However, on 9 February 2010, Harris died at 53 years old of an intracranial haemorrhage. The entirety of his health struggles was documented by “Deadliest Catch”, which also honored Harris with a special episode in the sixth season.
Jake Harris’ Downfall
Phil Harris’ death deeply impacted everyone, but his loss was especially hard to face for his sons. Specifically, Harris’ younger son Jake’s life sadly went spiralled downwards afterwards as his addiction problems were worsened by the loss: ‘(I) got a big hole in my heart and tried to fill it up with everything that wasn’t good for it’, confessed Jake in an interview with Dr. Drew in 2012.
Jake’s real problems started a month after Phil’s death, when he was arrested for driving under the influence. In November that year, Jake was reported by the then-new Captain of the Cornelia Marie Derek Ray, suspecting his consumption of drugs on board. Though the police didn’t find anything other than paraphernalia, Jake’s absence from the show in the following season was explained by his brother Josh to be a consequence of his worsening addiction.
In 2016 Jake suffered a brain injury after being beaten up and left on a side road, and though he eventually recovered, the next year he was arrested for stealing a car and drug possession. Though he didn’t have any trouble in the following couple of years, in 2019 he was sentenced to 18 months prison for drug possession, appearing in some episodes of “Deadliest Catch” after his release. Nonetheless, in early 2021 he was arrested once again for driving under the influence, continuing the circle of misfortunes for the young man.
The Scandies Rose’s Sink
Though the fishing vessel Scandies Rose wasn’t featured in the show, the tragedy surrounding its sinking definitely marked “Deadliest Catch” cast members and the audience.
It all happened on 2019’s New Year’s Eve, when the Scandies Rose sank near Kodiak Island with seven people on board. According to the ship’s deckhand Dean Gribble, he was awakened at 10 pm by his crewmate John Lawler, who alarmed him about the ship’s capsizing.
With barely any time, both men put on the survival suits when the vessel’s generator shut off, leaving them in the dark still inside the boat.
Though both men were able to get out of the boat and having tied themselves together, the rest of the crew didn’t have the same luck: ‘I was trying to find something to throw back in so they could use it to climb out. I couldn’t find anything, because everything was so icy’, said Gribble in an interview with the Alaskan news portal KTOO.
At 2am, Gribble and Lawler were found by the US Coast Guard, but the remaining five crew members were never found. The Scandies Rose’s sinking was the biggest tragedy on the Bering Sea in a couple of years, as the cast of “Deadliest Cast” remembered in a 16th season episode dedicated to the victims.
Mahlon Reyes’s Death
Although Mahlon Reyes wasn’t the most popular cast member of “Deadliest Catch”, he was actually in the show for eight years on board of either the Seabrooke or Cape Caution, ships which are no longer in the show.
Mahlon had stayed away from crabbing season for a little while, due to a rupture of his Achilles tendon, but he never made his come back to the Bering Sea, as a heart attack ended his life in August 2020. The news of his death was taken by surprise, not only by his crew mates, but also by his family, who affirmed that he hadn’t previously suffered any serious health condition.
Mahlon’s ashes were spread on the Bering Sea in his memory.
Nick McGlashan’s Death
Not long after Mahlon Reyes’ death, tragedy hit “Deadliest Catch” again, when Nick McGlashan died in December 2020.
As a deck boss on the Cape Caution, Nick had been a recurring “Deadliest Catch” cast member for years, and viewers surely remember him for his unrelenting work routine and ethic. Nonetheless, his drug addiction problems sometimes shadowed his ‘true crabber’ attitude, even quitting the show to go to rehab back in 2017. Although he was arrested for driving under the influence in 2018, he returned to the show for the following seasons, until his death from a drug overdose.
Despite his sad demise, Nick’s determination to fight his addictions was inspiring: ‘As I thrive in my recovery, my world begins to make sense. Everything begins to become clear,’ he wrote in a Chosen Magazine’s article from 2017.
Drug Addiction Problems
Unfortunately, Nick McGlashan’s struggles with drugs aren’t a rarity in the fishing vessel business in general, and especially not for “Deadliest Catch” cast members. As it happens, in 2016 a show’s staff member named Matthew J. Schneider was charged for distributing drugs to the crews featured in the show.
Though it’s unknown who Schneider’s clients were, and no other staff members were charged, the Summer Bay’s Captain Bill Wichrowski admitted drug addictions were unfortunately usual in the business. Nonetheless, the issue helped him to improve as a captain: ‘It’s in my best interest to do the most for these guys that I can’.
All in all, it’s unfortunate that besides being exposed to the unrelenting dangers that the commercial fishing profession entails, the ships’ crew members’ physical and emotional well-being are also negatively affected by these conditions.