SAN FELIPE, Meixco (CBS 5 / AP) — Seven American fishermen, mostly from Northern California, still missing several days after their boat capsized off Mexico’s Baja California coast went to sea as they had for several years on the U.S. Independence Day holiday: They wanted to fish and have a good time.
On Wednesday, the shipmates who survived the wreck again waited anxiously for word as the Mexican Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard continued their search in the Sea of Cortez, holding out hope that the missing were able to survive in the sea’s balmy waters.
The Mexican Consulate late Wednesday afternoon assured California state Sen. Leland Yee that the search would be extended “indefinitely,” Adam Keigwin, Yee’s chief of staff, told CBS 5. Yee made an inquiry at the behest of relatives of some of the missing.
At least one Californian, besides the seven missing, was confirmed dead and identified by Mexican and American officials as Leslie Yee of Ceres, outside of Modesto. Yee was a retired employee of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.
Rumors circulated among family members of the fishermen that the captain of the capsized vessel had been arrested by authorities in Mexico. However, Alejandro Contreras, a spokesman in the Baja California state governor’s office, told CBS 5 it was untrue.
“The Baja California state Prosecutor’s office has asked for an inquiry to be opened – for the accident in general,” Contreras told CBS 5.
Meanwhile, Mexican Navy Capt. Ruben Bustos said the search area for survivors moved south of Gonzaga bay, a coastal town south of the port of San Felipe where efforts were previously concentrated.
Rescue teams also coordinated efforts with officials across the sea in the northern state of Sonora because shipwreck survivors in the region sometimes are swept far away by fast tides.
“Every hour he’s still missing, hope gets hit with reality,” said Gary Wong, whose younger brother, Brian, 54, of Berkeley, was among the missing.
A sudden storm struck early Sunday, capsizing the 115-foot vessel, the Erik. The crew and the fishermen clung to coolers, rescue rings and life vests for more than 16 hours.
KCBS’ Chris Filippi Reports:
The navy and other fishing boats plucked 19 fishermen and all 16 crew members from the water late Sunday. The vessel sank about 60 miles south of San Felipe.
Sunday was the second day of a weeklong fishing trip the group had organized for several years each Independence Day holiday. They had planned to fish for yellowtail.
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, in Sonoma County, 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 U.S. Coast Guard sent a C-130 aircraft that was searching along with three helicopters from Mexico’s navy. The crews have covered around 1,400 miles and boats have navigated around 900 miles in the sea.
Divers also prepared to search the wreckage, which is in water more than 200 feet deep, but officials have not confirmed when.
Editor’s note: Below is the list of passengers and crew on the fishing boat Erik that capsized, according to the Mexican Navy.
Gene J. Leong
Roman A. Amador Farias
Jose Maria Diaz Ordonez
Marco A. Villa Bejarano
Azor Quintana R.
Michael Kui Min Ng
Adolph Joseph Beeler
Marcelino Morales Villegas
Crispin Contreras Montes
Alejandro Bermudez E.
Miguel A. Lima Toledo
Miguel Camacho Rubio
Joel Castro Castro
Carlos Miranda Gutierrez
J. Rodrigo Romero Fernandez
Hector M. Rubio Quintero
J. Jesus Sillas Ruiz
Jesus Alfredo Cesena
Miguel A. Alcantara Castro
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