Light Hearted

Light Hearted ep 76 – Peter Kaufman discusses the Scotch Cap, Alaska, disaster

The Aleutian Islands are a chain of 14 large volcanic islands and 55 smaller islands that form a dividing line between the Bering Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. Scotch Cap Lighthouse was established at the southwest corner of Unimak Island, the largest of the Aleutians, in 1903. It was the first station established on Alaska’s outside coast.

Scotch Cap in the 1940s (courtesy of Peter Kaufman)

In 1940, a new concrete-reinforced lighthouse and combined fog signal building replaced the original structure. On April 1, 1946, a massive earthquake struck the North Pacific, spawning a tsunami that traveled north to the Aleutian Islands. The lighthouse was destroyed, and five Coast Guard keepers were killed.

Painting of the Scotch Cap disaster by Darrell Millsap
Peter Kaufman

For the past two and a half years, author Peter Kaufman has been researching and writing about the 1946 Scotch Cap disaster. His work will be published as a book. He talks about the disaster and his research in this interview.

9 thoughts on “Light Hearted ep 76 – Peter Kaufman discusses the Scotch Cap, Alaska, disaster

  1. Very interesting .. I learned a few new items. I was stationed on Unimak Island at the Cape Sarichef LORAN Station (on the North Side of the island) while in the Coast Guard in the 72-73 time frame. We would support the Scotch Cap Station Light and Radio Beacon (which was un-manned and automated at that time). Made several trips to the south end of the island, about 17 miles away, and have a few pictures online.
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    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Steven. I looked at your photos, very interesting. What an incredible experience all that must have been.

  2. I was stationed at Cape Serichef on Unimak Island from Sept 76-77. We took a ride out to Scotch Cap for a day trip. I have some pictures of the day, should find them. Fellow coasties were appropriately solemn knowing what had happened there.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, James. It must have been an amazing experience being stationed at Cape Sarichef. We’d love to see the photos of your trip to Scotch Cap. You can email me at

    2. Thanks for your comments, James. My uncle, Paul Ness was one of the men who perished on April 1, 1946. It’s nice to know that others remember what happened that day.

      1. Hi Janine – thanks so much for your comment. I feel that Peter Kaufman’s book will serve as a memorial and tribute to the men who died that day.

  3. I repaired the radio beacon at Cape Mala the Coast Guard station that guided ships to the Pacific side of the Panama Canal. I don’t believe it had a lighthouse. I have been to the New London Ledge Lighthouse for a day trip. I served in the Coast Guard from 1954-58.

  4. I was stationed at LORAN Station Attu Island in 1980. We had an earthquake and then a tsunami warning which lead to a nighttime station evacuation. I had seen the painting of the Scotch Cap disaster by Darrell Millsap a couple of years ealier at another Coast Guard station I was at. During our tsunami evacuation on Attu, I was concerned we did not go high enough because the deep snow. I had that picture in my mind of the Scotch Cap Lighthouse with its beam looking at that monstrous wave. I stayed outside the designated evacuation shelter watching that ocean by moonlight–telling myself that if I saw anything that looked like that wave in the painting coming towards the island, I was going to give a warning shout and then do my best to be a human snowmobile straight up the mountain we were at the base of. Thankfully not much of a wave ever came.

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