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How Fireworks Led To A Messy Lawsuit On Deadliest Catch

The Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch" certainly lives up to its name. The reality show chronicles the dangerous profession of commercial crab fishers who brave the icy waters of the Bering Sea. Besides enough harsh wintry weather to make even the most hardened individuals shudder, crew members deal with some brutal working conditions. Long hours of shifting on a moving boat while working with an 800-pound trap for crabs create a work environment that's tougher than you think.

The crews on these fishing vessels put their lives at stake. So when the series tries to catch the cast having some fun, it's understandable. Who wouldn't want to occasionally let loose after being tossed around at sea by Alaska's worst weather? During one Season 17 episode, Johnathan Hillstrand and his crew on the FV Time Bandit display some pirate energy as they ambush the FV Northwestern with a flurry of paintballs. The prankish incident briefly lightens a series known for producing a lot of gut-wrenching moments. 

This isn't the first time Johnathan and his crew let off some steam while on their ship. In 2013, an intense NFL playoff game resulted in the Time Bandit crews shooting off some fireworks. Sadly, this light-hearted moment ultimately led to an unfortunate injury and a messy lawsuit.

A firework explosion injured a Time Bandit crew member

On January 13, 2013, football fans were probably watching a pivotal playoff game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Atlanta Falcons. According to an article from the Seattle PI, the crew of the Time Bandit was also listening to the game and decided to pull out some fireworks. Unfortunately, one explosion severely injured one of the crew members. The Seattle PI reports that David Zielinski, who had joined the crew that same year, had a motor-style firework prematurely blow up in his right hand, shattering bones and leaving him badly maimed.

According to a separate report from the Seattle PI, Zielinski successfully sued Johnathan and Andy Hillstrand and was awarded approximately $1.35 million. It's an unfortunate event — but one that may have been a ticking time bomb in a certain sense. In fact, it wasn't entirely unusual to see the Hillstrands and their crew engage in fireworks battles against other ships. One clip shared on the Discovery YouTube Channel shows the Time Bandit and the Northwestern shooting fireworks at each other before finally exploding the rest in the sky to celebrate a successful crab-hunting run. Beyond that, the malfunctioning firework was manufactured under the official Time Bandit brand — a factor that was mentioned in the lawsuit. 

The fireworks incident wasn't the only trouble for the Hillstrands

Looking back at the fireworks lawsuit, it's hard not to see the incident as one domino in an agonizing line for the Hillstrands' troubles. The lawsuit brought by Zielinski wasn't the first time the Hillstrands had to swim in some legal waters. In fact, dedicated fans of "Deadliest Catch" will remember that the siblings got into trouble with Discovery in 2010. The two bailed on a spin-off project, "Hillstranded," which prompted Discovery to sue them for $3 million. While things eventually thawed between the Hillstrands and Discovery, it felt like the beginning of a trilogy of troubles for the brothers. 

If we take the fireworks lawsuit as the disappointing direct sequel to the spin-off case, then the attempted selling of the beloved Time Bandit completes the cycle. The Hillstrands and the Time Bandit ultimately left "Deadliest Catch" after Season 13, and while Johnathan returned to the series during Season 16, he was without his characteristic boat.

This was probably because, around 2019, the Time Bandit was trying to be sold for approximately $2.88 million (via TMZ). While talking to Stuff, Johnathan noted that it had become too much of a costly hassle to manage the ship. However, to the delight of fans, the sale of the Time Bandit must have fallen through. The vessel returned triumphantly in Season 17, with Johnathan back at the helm. That's fitting, as it was a little weird seeing him tag along on another ship in the previous season.