The Stars Of Deadliest Catch Who Tragically Died

Deadliest Catch is one of Discovery Channel’s most addictive offerings, if you like stories about life and death; that is. For those who prefer their reality shows based on, err, reality, Deadliest Catch follows the never-ending drama for those in the crab fishing industry, and it makes for some pretty compelling viewing. The Emmy-award-winning show watches like a good old doccie, but with real heart-racing risks. The show has paid off, time and again, even adapting to unprecedented times, such as during the coronavirus pandemic and its effect on the crab season. As revered Captain Sig Hansen remarks in a Season 17 trailer, “I’ve been coming up here for 42 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

However, Alaska’s icy waters are notorious for taking lives, and crew members constantly battle with nature’s harshest elements. The reality show, which has been on air since 2005, seems to have been cursed with the deaths of several cast and crew members. Strangely, very few of the tragic deaths happened at sea.  Let’s dive into the real stories behind the Deadliest Catch deaths.

Unlucky Friday for Captain Phil Harris

Captain Phil Harris commanded respect and ran a tight ship aboard the Cornelia Marie. The 53-year-old was also the father of Josh and Jake Harris. Now, for those of you who don’t follow Deadliest Catch, the fisherfolk are a superstitious lot and Phil was no exception, per E!“I don’t leave on a Friday, ever,” the outlet reports he once said, “because the last two times I did I blew up the main engine. So I just don’t do it.” However, the skipper was unloading his last crab catch on a Friday when engineer Steve Ward found him on the floor after he had a stroke. On January 29, 2010, Phil was rushed to the hospital where he was put in a medically induced coma after surviving surgery, per People

Against all odds, Captain Harris came out of his coma and spent a few final days with his friends and family. Dan Mittman, his best friend, explained, “I think that miraculous recovery that happened so rapidly and blew the doctors’ minds away was so that he could say the things that he had to say to the people he had to say them to.” Josh also felt, “We had nine days total that we were there to enjoy a few moments with him. We had our closest people there and it was awesome.” Phil died on February 9, 2010, after making his peace with his loved ones.

Jake Anderson's father, Keith, vanishes

Fiction ain’t got nothing on reality. See, days before the Phil Harris tragedy went down, Jake Anderson received word that his father had vanished. Yup, three cast members were dealing with the loss of their dads at the same time. Komo News reported that Keith Anderson went missing in early January 2010. This was a man who, for the duration of his 43-year marriage, had never spent the night away from his wife. His truck was found a couple of weeks later in a remote part of Skagit County, but there was no sign of Jake’s dad. Two years later, a hiker found the remains of the older Anderson’s body. He had been murdered.

Although Keith did not appear on Deadliest Catch, his missing but assumed dead status was an important part of the haunting story arc. Jake was devastated that his dad had vanished, and for five episodes, he tried to work through his emotions. According to Entertainment WeeklyJake envied Josh and Jake Harris because they were able to find closure. The Harris brothers could say goodbye to their dad because they had a body to bury. “I just want to know what happened to my dad,” Jake said (via Perez Hilton). His father’s death had a profound impact on him, and according to his bio, he worked his way up from being a greenhorn to the captain of Saga as a result of the tragedy.

Complications from sleep apnea killed Justin Tennison

Justin Tennison didn’t know that his deadly mistake was going to sleep in February 2011. He was just 33 years old when he was found dead in a hotel room in Homer, Alaska. He was a deckhand on the Time Bandit ship and was the father of two children, per ABC NewsA crew member stopped by the hotel to check in on Justin and that’s when hotel staff found his non-responsive body in bed. They found alcohol and a small amount of marijuana in his room, and police had to do an autopsy to determine the cause of death. CPAP Supply USA highlighted Justin’s condition when they reported that the reality star’s cause of death was due to complications arising from sleep apnea. 

At the time, the captain and crew of Time Bandit posted a tribute to Justin (via ABC News): “Justin was tough as a bull and was an all-around good hand… We will miss him terribly and wish his family all the best during this most difficult time.”

Producer Joe McMahon was murdered

Joseph McMahon was a talented associate producer on Deadliest Catch when he was shot in cold blood in July 2015. According to Deadlinethe 25-year-old was brutally slain in front of his mom’s house in Pasadena, California.  Later, the body of suspect Brandon Rafiepour, 24, was found in his car. The alleged perp had parked in front of his own parents’ house before committing suicide (via San Marino Tribune). Police confirmed that the two knew each other, but it was only later that McMahon’s dad confirmed the motive.

Tom McMahon wrote his son’s story on Moms Demand Actiona gun safety awareness group. The father revealed that his son had two childhood friends over for some video games. Rafiepour kept asking their mutual friend when he was going to leave, and both men eventually left Joseph’s home at around 2 a.m. Joe went outside — for an unknown reason — and that’s when Rafiepour gunned him in cold blood. “I wish I had been there the night Joe was killed. I wish I had stopped my son from going outside that door,” a clearly grieving Tom wrote.

Cornelia Marie loses another captain in Tony Lara

The Grim Reaper was far from done and this time went after Tony Lara. Only five years after Phil Harris’ death, the Cornelia Marie lost another skipper. In fact, Phil and Tony were close friends when the former died after having a stroke. According to PeopleCaptain Keith Colburn described Tony by saying, “He was a really good guy all around, and he had wonderful character.” 

Keith also relayed a story about how selfless Tony was when he broke his arm in the early 2000s and put his own health aside for the sake of the crew. Keith stated, “It would have taken me five days to get him into town, and he wouldn’t let me take him. He went down into the engine room and fabricated his own brace so he was able to get through. He basically saved the season for us.” The veteran crabber was 50 years old when he died of a heart attack while he was in South Dakota for a motorcycle rally, per E!.

Captain Blake Painter was discovered days after death

Captain Blake Painter starred in two seasons of Deadliest Catch, and then he wanted out. The last time he appeared on the show was in 2007 before hauling in his final crab trawling nets. As time went on, it looks like the captain of the F/V Maverick seemed to have developed a habit. According to The Astorian, in January 2018, he was arrested and charged for the possession of heroin, driving under the influence of intoxicants, reckless driving, and tampering with evidence. Needless to say, it was a hefty list of charges.

Just months later in May, Painter was found dead in his kitchen in Oregon. Friends called the cops after they became concerned. Police busted in and were assaulted by the stench of decaying flesh, per TMZ. They also found prescription painkillers, tinfoil, a pipe, and a metal container with either heroin or meth in the 38-year-old’s home. Sadly, Painter’s death would only usher in other Deadliest Catch stars’ drug-related deaths.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse and mental health, please contact SAMHSA’s 24-hour National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Mahlon Reyes had an Achilles heel

Mahlon Reyes was recovering from an injury in 2020. According to TMZhe was trying to rehab his torn Achilles because he wanted to be ready for the next crabbing season. However, the deckhand was rushed to hospital in July 2020 after he suffered a massive heart attack. Sadly, he never recovered and they took the father-of-four off life support. In January 2021, the public learned that Mahlon had died from a drug overdose. TMZ reported that the crabber’s actual cause of death was an accidental cocaine overdose.

After the news initially broke, there was an outpouring of support. Heather Sullivan, Mahlon’s wife, told USA Today that memories made the “impossible situation bearable.” She wrote, “We laugh and remember all the funny stories and have been surrounded by an amazing group of our best friends and family.” Nick McGlashan, Mahlon’s friend and co-star on Deadliest Catch, tweeted a pic of them together on a boat. “This place misses you. RIP Mahlon,” he wrote. A few months later, he too would be dead.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse and mental health, please contact SAMHSA’s 24-hour National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Deck boss Nick McGlashan had a history of drug abuse

2020 was a bad year for the cast of Deadliest Catch. Not only did they lose Mahlon Reyes, but Nick McGlashan died of an overdose just before the start of the most eagerly anticipated new year ever. Deck boss Nick was a fan favorite and was open about his past struggle with addiction. However, it seems as if he relapsed. According to The Sunhis autopsy showed that he took a lethal combination of meth, cocaine, and fentanyl before he died in December at a Holiday Inn in Reddick, Florida. Paramedics tried to resuscitate him with a defibrillator, but Nick was gone.

In Season 13, producers kicked him off Cape Caution and ordered him to go to rehab according to his Deadliest Catch bio page. In 2017, he shared his struggle to stay sober in Chosen MagazineHe wrote, “I was at war with my addiction and it was winning. To say I was lost would be an understatement. I was broken and soulless.” He concluded by saying, “The greatest thing about my recovery is that I can change someone’s life just by talking about my addiction and recovery.” At the end of the day, Nick raised awareness about drug abuse and his life serves as a cautionary tale. He was just 33, had two children, and was a seventh-generation fisherman.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse and mental health, please contact SAMHSA’s 24-hour National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

The Ocean Challenger and Destination capsized

Deadliest Catch is a popular reality show because it reveals the undisputed power of the sea. And when entire boats sink, many fishermen’s lives are lost. So, when the Ocean Challenger capsized in three-story waves in 2006, some nail-biting scenes followed as the Coast Guard scrambled to save lives, per The Seattle Times. There were four “Virginia Boys” (known for their Southern manners) on board and only Kevin Ferrell, 28, survived. He was the only person who was wearing a survival suit. As Armand Audette, the manager of a fish-processing plant where the Challenger “frequently off-loaded its catch” explained, “I do think they were caught off guard by the weather.”

Similar scenes played out when Destination sank into the Bering Sea in 2017. This time, however, there were no survivors and the Deadliest Catch season opened with a tribute to the six fishermen who lost their lives at sea. Saga captain Jake Anderson was particularly hit hard because Captain Jeff Hathaway was the first person to offer him the job as a captain because he saw such potential in him. Jake told Pop Culture, “The funny thing is that everyone calls me a screamer, but my hero was ‘Hollering Jeff Hathaway,’ who was the captain of the Destination.”

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