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Bodega Bay fisherman killed in freak accident off Moss Landing

A veteran of Bodega Bay’s commercial fishing fleet died this week off the California Coast in a freak accident aboard his 33-foot vessel, Amoorea, apparently after his water-protective clothing became snagged in the propeller shaft, pinning him between the shaft and the hull of the boat.

Dan Nguyen, a Vietnam native who arrived on the West Coast in the early 1990s with tales of serving as a U.S. scout during wartime, subsequent imprisonment and, later, killing a guard to escape the North Vietnamese, already was unconscious when a deckhand discovered him badly injured in the engine room, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The Amoorea was adrift about 5 miles west of Moss Landing late Wednesday morning when the mayday call came in on a radio transmission line reserved for distress calls, Coast Guard Lt. Chris Shih said.

Nguyen, about 77, frequently fished for salmon in the area, said Lorne Edwards, a close friend and president of the Bodega Bay Fishermen’s Marketing Association. It reportedly took many hours for Monterey County firefighters to extricate Nguyen, he said.

“He was very popular in Bodega Bay, a really well-respected guy,” Edwards said.

The accident closely follows the death of another fisherman, Duane Strang, who died about three weeks earlier, Edwards said. “Guys are upset. We just lost another fisherman not very long ago to brain cancer, a good friend of mine,” he said.

Nguyen was married to a woman in Vietnam to whom he spoke daily and sent money. He had children and grandchildren, as well. But he spent virtually his entire married life in the United States, most of it in California, after a brief stay in Thailand following his escape from Vietnam, said Edwards’ fathers, Jack Edwards.

The elder Edwards, a retired fisherman, met Nguyen around 1994 and was instrumental in helping him to buy his first boat, he said. Nguyen eventually lived at the Edwards’ home for about five years, calling him “Dad,” while Edwards called him “Son,” though their age difference was six or seven years.

Nguyen, often called by his nickname, Django, also had a brother, Tung, who lives in the East Bay.

Nguyen, who had learned to fish without instruments in Vietnam, was well-known for his ability to read the stars and the sky, Jack Edwards said. Many of the other fishermen consulted him about the weather. “Everybody relied on him,” he said.

Jack Edwards fished with Nguyen for a time and said he was “meticulous” about checking his engine fluids, as well as ensuring the engine was off when he did so. But somehow it must have been running when Nguyen apparently went to check the oil Wednesday, a task that required him to remove the cover from the propeller shaft, Edwards said.

With the fish tank in the hold to keep the salmon fresh, there would have been very little space to maneuver, he said, allowing Nguyen to become tangled in the powerful machinery.

Jack Edwards said Nguyen was “a great fisherman,” but that he had tried many times to persuade him to retire, sell his boat and return to his family in Vietnam, but Nguyen always refused, thinking he needed to keep working.

“I’m sure going to miss him, I’ll tell you that,” Jack Edwards said. “He was a tremendous guy.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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