The Most Harrowing Moments On Deadliest Catch

Correction 6/8/23: A previous version of this story stated that Myles Johnson was injured during a season 11 episode. The episode was during season 10, not 11.

Since it first made its debut on the Discovery Channel in 2005, "Deadliest Catch" has been one of the network's most popular reality TV shows. The series covers the incredibly tough and dangerous life onboard crab fishing vessels, showing how some of the most popular seafood in the world is taken from the ocean to the dinner table. The action takes place primarily in the Bering Sea in the northern Pacific Ocean, where the waters are fierce and the weather can quickly turn deadly. Some aspects of the popular series are manipulated by the production team, but the danger is usually real. it's not uncommon for a "Deadliest Catch" crew to find themselves in the midst of gale force winds or typhoons, yet they manage to stick it out in order to secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in precious crab.

To call their job perilous is an understatement. Not only do the elements bring challenges, but the extended time at sea and clashing personalities present their own set of difficulties onboard. In the nearly two decades it has been on air, "Deadliest Catch" has shown some of the extremes of what can go wrong when crab fishing, often stuck at sea hundreds of miles from civilization. Some of the most tragic details about the show have played out behind the scenes, but plenty of grueling events have been captured on camera. Of all the craziness, these are some of the most harrowing moments on "Deadliest Catch."

Losing part of a hand to the bait chopper

One of the dangers of fishing in the Bering Sea is the complete isolation. As "Deadliest Catch" highlights so well, crab fishing vessels have to travel to remote parts of the ocean in order to catch the most crab. While this allows them access to some of the freshest and best-tasting seafood, it also leaves them totally cut off from things like hospitals and doctors, sometimes by hundreds of miles. While crews will typically have at least one medically certified individual onboard, they are still pretty limited in what they can do.

This is perfectly illustrated during the Season 9 finale "The Final Battle," when deckhand Brandon Jaime gets several of his fingers caught in a bait chopper while at sea. With Jaime bleeding profusely and no medical facilities on the ship, the captain calls in the Coast Guard for an airlift rescue. However, the weather is so poor at first that it prevents the Coast Guard from flying to sea to rescue the injured crewman.

They have to wait until a break in the storm to finally get Jaime off the boat, which involves the Coast Guard pulling him up with a metal basket. After the rescue, Jaime gets taken to the closest hospital, where he is briefly treated before flying to the mainland to see a specialist. It is definitely one of the most tense moments on "Deadliest Catch," and also one of the most gruesome.

Crushed on the Wizard

In order for the crab fishermen on "Deadliest Catch" to do their jobs, they have to utilize a lot of hydraulic and mechanized equipment. After all, most crews only consist of four deckhands, and they have to catch, sort, and store thousands of pounds of crab each trip. This task would be virtually impossible to do as effectively just by hand, necessitating the use of heavy machinery at nearly every turn.

Most of the time, things go smoothly and the equipment helps the crabbers accomplish their job much more easily, but that's not always the case. During the Season 10 episode "Blonde Ambition," deckhand Roger Schlosstein from the Wizard finds himself crushed by a piece of equipment. While Schlosstein is unloading crab from a full pot, the hydraulic table behind him moves forward, trapping Schlosstein between the pot and the table.

Immediately, Schlosstein starts screaming in agony, and he collapses to the deck as soon as the table moves back. His back injury looks so severe that Captain Keith Colburn comes down from the cockpit to check on him. Without access to a hospital, Schlosstein is forced to get by with only rudimentary pain meds. It is seriously a distressing moment, and one that really shows how dangerous crabbing is.

The Northwestern loses all power

Imagine for a moment you find yourself crab fishing in the middle of the Bering Sea. It's late at night, the temperatures are subzero, and you're sailing your way through a storm trying to catch some crab. Out of nowhere, the lights start flickering and suddenly you lose all power. Immediately, you and the ship are plunged into darkness, and chaos reigns. To make things worse, a fire breaks out in the engine room, and your electrical system gets completely fried.

That's the situation "Deadliest Catch" Captain Sig Hansen and his crew on the Northwestern find themselves in during the Season 12 episode "Fire at Sea." The fire occurs as the crew is in the middle of hauling in pots full of crab, and it brings the entire operation to a standstill. After the crew puts the fire out, they realize the electrical system is severely damaged, which puts the thousands of pounds of crab they have already caught at risk. The crab will die without access to fresh water, and the pumps on the Northwestern are controlled electronically.

The crew is nearly 200 miles away from any land when the incident happens, which could have been fatal. Luckily, they are able to fix the ship and get their four-cylinder engine working, saving the day — and the crab — and getting the Northwestern home safely.

Greenhorn's face gets smashed

Being a greenhorn on "Deadliest Catch" is truly an experience. The term "greenhorn" is meant to denote rookie deckhands who are in their first season of crab fishing. Greenhorns can be young or old, and they can be subjected to some pretty severe ridicule at times from veteran crabbers who have been in the industry for years or even decades. In addition to the torment, greenhorns also have to learn the ropes of crab fishing, in what is the true definition of "on-the-job training."

During the Season 10 episode "Skipper Harris in Training," Cape Caution greenhorn Myles Johnson learns just how dangerous life at sea can be. While he is hauling in full crab pots at night, one of them takes an unexpected jolt and smashes directly into his face. The impact knocks Johnson over, and his face is quickly rendered a bloody mess. Luckily, one of the other crew members is also a registered EMT, and he is able to dispense some quick care to stop the bleeding.

However, Captain "Wild" Bill Wichrowski (pictured) is still incredibly worried about the possibility of a concussion, and he and the crew have to monitor Johnson throughout the night. The incident ends Johnson's season on the Cape Caution, but at least he survives with only a broken nose.

The Wizard crashes into another boat

Even though the Bering Sea is massive, most crab fishing vessels find themselves alone for the most part when out fishing. Occasionally, ships will see rival fishermen or other vessels in the same area, but that's definitely not the norm. That made the Season 17 "Deadliest Catch" collision during the episode "Russian Dragger" especially distressing and alarming when it occurred.

Keith Colburn's ship the Wizard is steaming through the sea when suddenly another boat cuts in front of them. Unable to stop the Wizard or maneuver out of the way, Colburn starts frantically screaming over the radio at the other ship to move, but to no avail. The Wizard plows into the other boat at almost full steam, risking the lives of the crews on both ships. The Wizard's anchor is completely crumpled and smashed from the impact, and Colburn and the crew are worried the ship might have structural damage, too.

For a few brief moments, the Wizard stands paralyzed in the sea, unable to move out of fear of causing even more damage. Fortunately, the crew determines that the ship is okay structurally, and the impact was largely absorbed by the anchor. Both ships sail away from the incident in the end, but things could have turned out much worse.

The Summer Bay takes on some rough waters

Sometimes, the hardest part about crab fishing isn't catching the actual crustaceans themselves. The incredibly rough waters of the Bering Sea make everything challenging, and in some cases that even extends to the harbors of the canneries the crabbers deliver their product to. During the "Deadliest Catch" Season 17 episode "The Ultimate Price," Captain "Wild" Bill Wichrowski and his crew on the Summer Bay have to deal with one of the worst harbors in the entire sea.

It is near the end of the season, and the cannery is one of the few still open, but it is notorious for having an incredibly dangerous harbor. The waves are known for being big and gnarly, and this time they just about take the Summer Bay to the bottom of the sea. Wichrowski is trying to maneuver the Summer Bay into port, but he gets caught in the surf zone and the massive swells keep turning his boat around. There are huge waves crashing on the deck, prompting Wichrowski to call his crew inside.

At multiple points, the Summer Bay is almost completely submerged underwater, and one super-wave just about flips the vessel upside down. The ship is almost completely sideways, and water even pours into the cockpit. Wichrowski remarks that it was one of the closest calls of his career, and even the camera crew starts profusely thanking him for saving their lives with his excellent piloting skills. It was a harrowing ending to a season that had already seen tragedy strike the crew of the Summer Bay: The ship's deck boss, Nick McGlashan, died in December 2020 at the age of 33. 

Medevac from the Wizard

Having a medical emergency while trapped at sea is one of the most terrifying experiences one could go through. There are very few, if any, fully trained medical personnel onboard, and any actual medical facility is sometimes hundreds of miles away on dry land. Things can go from bad to worse very quickly, and in greenhorn Chris Scambler's case during the "Deadliest Catch" Season 8 episode "Vital Signs," they unfortunately do.

Scambler is a deckhand on the Wizard that season, and during the episode he experiences a horrifying bout of dehydration. His body starts to completely shut down, and his heart rate is skyrocketing while his blood pressure is simultaneously dropping, which is never a good sign. Scambler walks off the deck and collapses, and he starts seeing double.

Captain Keith Colburn's quick thinking leads to a dramatic mid-sea rescue by the Coast Guard, who in all likelihood saves Scambler's life. Colburn and the entire crew are pretty rattled by the incident, and Scambler is unable to continue for the remainder of the season. It is a serious reminder about how dangerous and fleeting life can be in the Bering Sea, and definitely one of the show's most intense moments.

Sig Hansen's heart attack

For many crab fishermen, the season does not end until they can finally return to their home and get a good night's sleep in their own bed. And as "Deadliest Catch" star Sig Hansen showed in the Season 12 finale "The Widowmaker," even heading back to port can be deadly. During the finale, Hansen and the Northwestern are heading back to end their season when Hansen starts to experience serious chest and arm pains. He is unsure of exactly what is going on, and even says, "I'm not dying," after the camera crew starts to notice he is experiencing discomfort.

Yet, as it turns out, Hansen is experiencing a potentially fatal heart attack. He is immediately rushed to the hospital when the Northwestern makes it to port, where his doctor reveals the terrifying truth. Hansen did not experience just any heart attack, but one of the most life threatening possible: a widowmaker. The widowmaker is so called because of its potential to become fatal extremely quickly, as 50% of the heart's blood supply is immediately compromised (via the Cleveland Clinic).

Hansen was incredibly lucky that his heart attack happened at the end of the season when he was headed to port, or things could have turned out much worse. He looks to be in obvious pain during the interview, and the doctor makes it clear how close he came to dying.

Man overboard on the Summer Bay

Of all the things that could possibly go wrong on "Deadliest Catch," going overboard is definitely near the top of the list. Not only is there the risk of getting crushed by the boat, but drowning, getting attacked by animals, and succumbing to hypothermia are all significant possibilities. That nearly happens to greenhorn Spencer Moore on the Summer Bay during the appropriately titled Season 14 episode "Greenhorn Overboard." Moore and the crew are working to pull in some buoys during a severe storm, when one of them pulls Moore overboard and into the Bering Sea.

The crew immediately reacts, shouting "Man overboard!" to alert Captain "Wild" Bill Wichrowski of what is going on as they grab the life preserver ring and throw it to Moore in the ocean. Miraculously, the crew is able to pull Moore onboard and save his life, but he spends several moments in the freezing waters as they struggle to pull him up. After getting him on the deck, Moore lies motionless for several moments, but eventually is able to stand up and make his way inside.

He profusely thanks his shipmates for saving his life, and seems to be physically okay. It's hard to imagine just how terrifying a moment like that would be, and Moore is incredibly lucky his crewmates were able to act so quickly and efficiently, or else this could have been a much more tragic story.

Rescue from the Patricia Lee

When you have to get the Coast Guard involved for an at-sea rescue, it's almost never a good sign. Yet, it happens more often than you might think, especially if you are a "Deadliest Catch" crew member. Unfortunately, in the Season 18 episode "Crushed at Sea," the crew of the Patricia Lee find themselves facing a situation that requires a medevac. While crabbing during a severe storm, deckhand Francis Katungin gets himself crushed between two massive crab pots.

The impact severely injures him, hurting his back and putting him in immense pain. Worse yet, the Patricia Lee is very far at sea and out of the Coast Guard's 100-mile rescue zone. To save Katungin's life, Captain Rip Carlton has to race through an extreme storm to get to the outer edge of the rescue zone so the Coast Guard can pick him up. Once the medevac team safely makes it aboard, they then have to deal with the delicate issue of Katungin's back, which they cannot risk abruptly moving.

When he's finally secured, the Coast Guard is able to lift Katungin off the Patricia Lee in the middle of a terrible storm. Reportedly, Katungin survived his injuries, though his career as a crabber might be over.

The Time Bandit makes a rescue

As "Deadliest Catch" Captain Jonathan Hillstrand shows, one of the most important tasks of any ship captain sailing through the Bering Sea is to be attentive and alert. During the Season 3 episode "Cheating Death," Hillstrand and his vessel Time Bandit are steaming through the sea when he notices a fellow fishing vessel. There is a pretty good storm raging, and Hillstrand sees that one of the deckhands, Josh White, is in a very precarious situation on the side of the ship trying to secure the crab pots.

After seeing the ship rock back and forth with White near the edge, Hillstrand loses track of him and realizes that White has fallen into the sea. Immediately, Hillstrand alerts his crew, and they are able to pull the drowning White out of the ocean. He is suffering from the early stages of hypothermia when they pick him up, so the crew immediately replaces his soaking-wet clothes with a warm and dry blanket. White is incredibly relieved at being saved, and he starts thanking and hugging Hillstrand as soon as he sees him.

Though it came early in the series, this is truly one of the show's defining moments. It showcases the danger and peril these commercial fishermen experience on a daily basis, and luckily it finishes with a happy ending.

A rough beginning

When Jake Anderson takes over for Elliot Neese as the captain of the Saga, things don't quite get off to the best start. During his first voyage in charge in the Season 11 episode "5-Year Storm," the Saga runs into some rough weather that produces violent waves as big as 40 feet tall. At a particularly intense moment, two massive waves crash over the deck one right after another, plunging the deck underwater for a brief moment and sending the deck crew swimming. Multiple deckhands are unexpectedly smashed in the face by powerful waves, and the pilot is terrified as he watches the water carry them around the deck.

The crew members could have easily slid into a piece of heavy equipment and been severely injured, or they could have been swept right off the deck into the freezing ocean. The Saga itself nearly capsizes from the impact of the waves, potentially putting the entire crew in a deadly situation. Luckily, the pilot is able to gain control of the vessel before anyone gets hurt, but the crew is more than a little upset over what happened.

Deckhand Nick "Sunshine" Tokman confronts relief captain Ray Flerchinger over the incident, but the captain claims the waves were "rogue" and he had no way to avoid them or warn the crew. In the end, no one was seriously injured physically, but everyone was pretty shaken emotionally. It was a less than auspicious start for Anderson's captain career, and definitely a learning experience for everyone.