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Mexico Suspends Search For Missing NorCal Boaters

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Mexico search, capsized boat, Baja California, fishing

A Mexican Navy vessel searches the waters of the Gulf of California for survivors of a capsized fishing boat near the town of San Felipe, Mexico, Tuesday, July 5, 2011. (AP)

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SAN FELIPE, Mexico (CBS / AP) — The Mexican navy on Wednesday suspended its search for seven U.S. men missing since a charter fishing boat capsized and sank in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez on July 3.

The announcement came a day after the U.S. Coast Guard ended aerial searches, in which a C-130 Hercules aircrew had covered an 803-square-mile (2,080 square-kilometer) area off the Baja California coast.

Mexican navy Lt. Sindy Espinoza said the naval search was “in a suspended phase,” but could resume if new information on the sunken boat’s whereabouts came to light. He said the navy would be alert for any reports from passing boats that might spot debris or other signs of the wreck.

>>Funeral Held For Bay Area Fisherman Killed In Baja Boat Sinking

“It’s just a very sad day for all of us,” Joelle Bautista, wife of missing Russell Bautista of Penngrove said of the decision to suspend the search. “I just wish it was a bad dream.”

Capt. Alonso Montalvo at the Baja California naval base in San Felipe said the navy “is maintaining its presence” in the area where the 105-foot (32-meter) fishing boat Erik went down about 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of San Felipe.

The search has been complicated by uncertainty about the spot where the boat came to rest. Espinoza said Mexican divers had looked for the wreck but were unable to find anything.

The United States has offered to send deep-water divers to help with the search, but Mexico has so far used its own divers.

The navy and other fishing boats pulled 19 fishermen and all 16 crew members from the water late Sunday. The survivors had clung to coolers, rescue rings and life vests for more than 16 hours after a sudden storm capsized the boat.

Most of the 27 U.S. tourists on board the ship were Northern California men who traveled to Mexico for an annual Independence Day fishing trip.

Craig Wong of Walnut Creek who survived the sinking, likened the end of the search to shutting off a life-support machine for his brother Brian, who is missing. Brothers Gary and Glen Wong also survived the ordeal.

“My hope is that he is somewhere and the seven missing are somewhere on an island just surviving by the hour and by the day,” Wong said.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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