American tourists on an annual July 4 fishing trip were plunged into the Gulf of California in the middle of the night after a flash storm upended their boat, killing at least one U.S. man and leaving seven others missing.
The Mexican navy said late Monday it will extend the search area for survivors after meeting with various rescue agencies, despite earlier reports they were considering turning their efforts to recovering bodies nearly two days after the early Sunday morning accident.
By early Monday, 19 of the tourists and all 16 crew members had been picked up by the navy or other fishing boats after clinging to coolers, rescue rings and life vests for more than 16 hours.
Mexican navy Capt. Benjamin Pineda Gomez said he had no name or details about the man who died. But he said with the warm weather and water temperature, it's still possible the others missing are alive.
"A person who casts away can survive many days. That sea is calm," he said.
The U.S. Coast Guard released the following statement on Sunday afternoon:
Coast Guard aircrews and Mexican Navy crews continue to search for survivors from charter fishing vessel that sank Sea of Cortez, near Isla San Luis, Mexico, at approximately 2:30, Sunday morning.
Mexican authorities have reported that there are 36 people accounted for and eight are still missing. Search crews have yet to locate anybody in the water.
The San Diego-based Coast Guard H-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew has covered more than 42 miles of water, flying at an altitude of 300 feet. A relief crew has been brought in to continue the search effort. The on scene weather is overcast with water temperatures about 84 degrees.
The 115-foot (35-meter) vessel, the Erik, sank about 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of the port of San Felipe around 2:30 a.m. PDT Sunday, the second day of a weeklong vacation fishing trip the men had organized for several years each Independence Day holiday.
The boat capsized less than 2 miles from shore, but the navy extended its search 60 miles (100 kilometers) deeper into the gulf later Monday after scouring the area by helicopter and airplane and finding nothing, Pineda said.
Most of the 27 men are from Northern California and had made the trip before, eating gourmet dinners on board every night and coming home with ice chests full of fish.
"I'm beyond concerned," said Kristina Bronstein, who is engaged to missing tourist Mark Dorland of Twain Harte, Calif.
She heard about the accident Monday morning from a trip organizer's wife, who told her Dorland, 62, was one of the first people to fall into the water. He wasn't wearing a life vest.
The couple are to be married next month.
Charles Gibson, a police officer with the Contra Costa Community College District, said people on the boat were awoken by other passengers and the crew as it began to sink.
Most "were in the water for over 16 hours," said Gibson, who gone on the fishing trip twice before. "We hope that the information is getting to our families that we are here and that we survived."
Tourist Michael Ng of Belmont, Calif., was rescued with another fisherman as they tried to swim to shore for help, buoyed by a cooler. He was part of a group of 12 friends on the trip.
"I'm relieved I'm alive, but I'm scared for the people who haven't been found yet," he said, adding that he plans to stay in San Felipe during the search and hopes the others are still alive. "We were not very far from shore, so people were beached or stranded on some local islands."
Those rescued were in good condition, with a few scrapes after bobbing in the intense sun and gulf waters that were about 77 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Mexican navy weather analysis. Photos released by the Mexican navy showed several sunburned fishermen in T-shirts and Bermudas waiting to get on a bus.
They were taken to a clinic for checkups, then to their hotel, Pineda said. One diabetic survivor was taken to a naval hospital in San Felipe, Escobedo said.
According to the Baja Sportsfishing Inc. website, the Erik has been on the Gulf of California, known in Mexico as the Sea of Cortez, since 1989. It was built in Holland and was equipped with stabilizers to handle the turbulent North Sea.
The California Secretary of State website says Baja Sportfishing's business license has been suspended. It doesn't state a reason or give a date.
"We have been working with Mexican navy authorities and the U.S. Coast Guard in the search and rescue," Baja Sportfishing Inc. said in a brief statement e-mailed to the Associated Press. "Right now our main concern is making sure that everyone is accounted for."
The company didn't respond to an interview request. It said in an announcement posted on its website Monday afternoon that all trips have been canceled.
Jan Ciabattari of Novato, Calif., said her husband, Richard, 62, managed to don a life vest before going into the water but that he spent 15 hours in the ocean before he was rescued. She spoke to him briefly by telephone and said he mentioned something about an electrical storm. He was invited on the annual trip at the last minute when someone else canceled.
Ciabaratti, like most men on the trip, drove to San Felipe, about 220 miles from Tijuana.
"They lost everything," she said, including car keys. "He's pretty shaken up."
George Ruble, a San Diego fisherman who's been chartering the Erik for more than a decade, said he's never had any qualms.
"I can't really say this is an unsafe operation," "I've done it many times. I've felt comfortable on it. The weather is unpredictable, but I'm still in shock over hearing about the sinking of the boat."