Captain of Sunken Fishing Boat Hailed as Hero

(CBS) - 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 Captain Robert Royer died.

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

But before it did, 54-year-old Royer, 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. 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 cause of the accident is being investigated.