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U.S. Coast Guard Joins Search For Missing Bay Area Fishermen In Mexico

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Missing poster, Baja capsized boat passengers

Poster showing missing passengers from capsized fishing boat “Erik” in the Sea of Cortez. (Lee Family)

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SAN FELIPE, Mexico (CBS 5 / AP) — A U.S. Coast Guard C-130 airplane was assisting the Mexican Navy in scouring the Sea of Cortez on Tuesday for seven missing tourists, mostly from the Bay Area, whose fishing boat capsized two days ago.

The 115-foot charter boat ‘The Erik’ sank during an electrical storm Sunday morning in the sea, south of the Mexican port town of San Felipe, with 43 people on board – 27 passengers, many from the Bay Area, and 16 crew members – for what had become an annual fishing trip.

By Monday, the entire crew and 19 of the passengers had been rescued after clinging to rescue rings and life vests for many hours; one passenger was found dead – his identity was confirmed Tuesday by Mexican authorities as Leslie Yee of Ceres in Stanislaus County. (Editor’s note: See complete list of those rescued and missing at the end of this article.)

Survivor Lee Ikegami had to identify the body of his close friend Yee Monday, just a day after being rescued. Ikegami’s wife, Murphy Ikegami, was told Yee’s body washed up on shore.

Yee retired less than two years ago after working for The San Francisco Chronicle for 37 years, the daily reported on Tuesday. He was 65, the newspaper said.

“Lee’s fine physically,” Murphy Ikegami said. “Mentally, he’s just devastated.”

KCBS’ Doug Sovern Reports:

The C-130, normally used for carrying cargo, was dispatched from a Coast Guard facility in Sacramento early Tuesday after Mexican Navy officials indicated that they believed it was possible the seven still missing could be alive in the warm, calm sea waters.

“(The C-130) can cover a larger area and there are more people on board looking out,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Henry Dunphy told CBS 5. “It will fly low and slow as it can covering the same type of pattern as a helicopter, but it just covers a larger area.”

Dunphy said the C-130 had a standard crew of 7 looking out, as opposed to the crew of 4 aboard a helicopter for a search effort. If the crew were to spot someone in the water, it would direct Mexican Navy boats and helicopters into the location, he added.

Among the survivors was Gary Wong, who made the trip with his three brothers, Glen, Craig and Brian, all from Bay Area. Brian Wong, of Berkeley, was among those still missing.

“We’re not leaving until we find him, one way or another,” Gary Wong was quoted by the Associated Press as saying on Tuesday.

Gary Wong was celebrating his first day of retirement on the trip with three brothers. He said his brothers, including Craig and Glen, took the trip twice before.

Wong thought he was going to die as the storm tossed the boat.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, my first day of retirement and I go down on a boat,” he said. “All that work for what? To be six feet under.”

Wong, who was trained as a first responder in his job with the East Bay Municipal Water District, has become the spokesman for the families seeking information about their loved ones.

He has been able to bring good news to some families, telling them that the reason they couldn’t reach a fisherman was only because he was asleep in his hotel room.

Don Lee, an experienced fisherman who is also missing, brought all 27 together, Wong said.

“He does everything, he makes everything happen,” he said. “He always says ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry, I have everything in hand.’ “

Mark Dorland, 62, was reportedly one of the first to go overboard and didn’t have a life vest. He is set to get married in a month.

Russell Bautista, 60, of Penngrove, is also missing. The retired Pacific Bell worker and avid fisherman who often took others fishing or crabbing.

“He’s taught a lot of people to fish,” wife Joelle Bautista said. “Our son went out with him a lot.”

The search was expanded to a wider area and continued with helicopters and aircraft. Divers also prepared to search the wreckage, which is in water more than 200 feet (65 meters) deep, but officials have not confirmed when.

The 19 passengers rescued appeared to be in good health based on their appearance in photos released by the Mexican Navy.

Baja Sportfishing Inc., the San Diego-based company that operated the capsized vessel, released a statement to the media that read, “We have been working with Mexican Navy authorities and the U.S. Coast Guard in the search and rescue. Right now our main concern is making sure that everyone is accounted for.”

The company’s website indicated that all other trips at this time had been canceled.

>> Related Story: Sportfishing Company Comes Under Scrutiny

—————–

List of those rescued and missing as provided by Mexican authorities…

Rescued:

1. Román A. Amador-Farias
2. José Maria Diaz-Ordoñez
3. Marco Antonio Villa-Bejarano
4. Azor Quintana-R.
5. Charles Gibson
6. Gary Hanson
7. Michael Kui Min Ng
8. Jim Miller
9. Steven Sloneker
10. Richard Ciabattari
11. Lee Ikegami
12. Gary Wong
13. Craig Wong
14. Pius Zuger
15. David Levine
16. Jerry Garcia
17. Bruce Marr
18. Adolph Joseph Beeler
19. Marcelino Morales-Villegas
20. Robert Higgins
21. Ross Anderson
22. Crispin Contreras-Montes
23. Alejandro Bermudez-E.
24. Miguel A. Lima-Toledo
25. Miguel Camacho-Rubio
26. Joel Castro-Castro
27. Carlos Miranda-Gutierrez
28. J. Rodrigo Romero-Fernandez
29. Hector M. Rubio-Quintero
30. J. Jesus Sillas-Ruiz
31. Jesús Alfredo Ceseña
32. Miguel A. Alcantara-Castro
33. Dennis Deluca
34. Warren Tsurumoto
35. Glen Wong

Missing:

36. Don Lee
37. Russell Bautista
38. Mark Dorland
39. Leslie Yee* (Later confirmed Deceased)
40. Brian Wong
41. Al Mein
42. Gene J. Leong
43. Shawn Chaddock

(© 2011 CBS San Francisco. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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