"Deadliest Catch": R.I.P. Alaska Ranger

"On March 23, 2008, the 184-foot fishing vessel Alaska Ranger sank 120 miles west of Dutch Harbor. All forty-seven members of her crew went into the water. Forty-two were rescued..."

Excerpt from dedication at the end of the July 22nd episode of Discovery's crab-fishing reality show "Deadliest Catch," which I just watched on the DVR.

It recounts an event I remember very well. For video and details, click on this link from Popular Mechanics.

I was sitting in Washington-Dulles Airport on that very day, grabbing some lunch in a pub between flights on my way back to Los Angeles when I looked up at the soundless TV screen and saw that a fishing boat had gone down in the Bering Sea. Afraid that it was one of the crab-boat captains I'd come to know from the show, I pulled out my cellphone and tried unsuccessfully to log onto the Internet for more details.

Then I called a publicist in L.A. who handled the show and left a panicky message. She called back by the time I reached my departure gate and relayed that she had already heard about the report and it wasn't one of the boats featured on the show -- which made it no less of a tragedy.

Say what you like about reality TV not being real, but the fear that this L.A. TV critic felt, sitting in D.C., looking at a news dispatch from Alaska, sure felt real. TV has the unique ability to lift us out of our world and drop us into a world we would never otherwise see.

Even when the news is sad, that's a remarkable thing.