American tourists on a 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 man and leaving seven others missing.
The Mexican navy said today it would extend the search area for survivors after meeting rescue agencies, despite earlier reports that it was considering turning its efforts to recovering bodies, nearly two days after the accident.
The navy rescued 19 tourists and all 16 crew members, who clung to coolers, rescue rings and life vests for hours before some were discovered by other fishing boats as they tried to swim to shore.
Navy captain 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 was still possible the others were alive.
“A person who casts away can survive many days. That sea is calm,” he said..
Divers were preparing to search the sunken wreckage for bodies, said state civil protection director Alfredo Escobedo Ortiz.
The 115ft Erik sank about 60 miles south of the port of San Felipe early yesterday, the second day of a week-long fishing trip the men had organised for several years each Independence Day holiday.
Most the 27 were 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, California.
She heard about the accident yesterday from a trip organiser’s wife, who told her Mr Dorland, 62, was one of the first people to fall into the water. He was not wearing a life vest. The couple were 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 less than two miles from shore.
Most “were in the water for over 16 hours” said Mr Gibson. “Eventually, (we) were rescued by local fishermen and the military.
“We hope that the information is getting to our families that we are here and that we survived.”
Tourist Michael Ng of Belmont, California, was rescued with another fisherman as they swam to shore 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.
“We were not very far from shore, so people were beached or stranded on some local islands.”
Those rescued were in a good condition with a few scrapes after bobbing in the intense sun and warm gulf waters.
They were taken to a clinic for checks, then to their hotel. One diabetic survivor was taken to a naval hospital in San Felipe.
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 stabilisers to handle the turbulent North Sea.
The California Secretary of State website says Baja Sportfishing’s business licence has been suspended. It does not state a reason or give a date.
“We have been working with Mexican Navy authorities and the US Coast Guard in the search and rescue,” Baja Sportfishing said in a brief statement. “Right now our main concern is making sure that everyone is accounted for.”