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Ceremony Remembers Those Lost in Coast Guard Disaster

Jan 28, 2015

It still stands as the U.S. Coast Guard's worst peacetime disaster. And 35 years later survivors, family members and supporters still gather near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge each year to remember the sinking of the Blackthorn.

The bell retrieved from the wreckage of the Blackthorn. It rang once for each of the victims lost on January 28, 1980.
Credit M. S. Butler

On Wednesday morning, a memorial service was held to remember the 23 crew members who lost their lives when the Blackthorn sank near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The ship sank when it collided with a tanker, the Capricorn.

Members of the Clearwater Coast Guard Air Station performed an aerial flyover salute under bright blue skies and in a cool stiff January wind as the ship's bell rang one time for each of the lives lost.

An aerial salute flyover from the U.S. Coast Guard Clearwater station.
Credit M. S. Butler

Master Chief Petty Officer Steven Cantrell read the names of those who died that night, to the sound of  23 sharp, clear strikes of a bell.

Steve Coleman is now a high school science teacher in Georgia. But he was a 21-year-old seaman apprentice that night and he says rarely does a day go by when he doesn't think about that night.

"All of the details of the night of January 28th are especially clear in my memory and I've shared the story with hundreds and hundreds of people," said Coleman.

Following the reading of the names, numerous wreaths were placed at the site of the marker bearing the names of the victims.

The marker bearing the names of the victims of the Blackthorn.
Credit M. S. Butler

A Coast Guard helicopter hovered just off the coast, dropping a wreath into the Gulf waters and bagpipers played amazing grace.

"I have a tendency to tear up and get choked up at this ceremony and today will be no exception," said Coleman.