Mexican navy: US man dies in Baja boat accident

July 4, 2011 11:24:14 AM PDT
A boat carrying 27 U.S. tourists on a July 4 fishing trip capsized in an unexpected storm in the Gulf of California, hurling the passengers and crew into the sea. One man died and seven were still missing Monday, the Mexican navy said.

Nineteen of the tourists, all men and most from the Bay Area in northern California, were found alive, as were all 16 Mexican crew members, said Capt. Benjamin Pineda Gomez in the Baja California port of San Felipe.

Pineda had no name or details about the man who died. Those rescued were in good condition with a few scrapes and sunburns. They were taken to a clinic for checkups, then to their hotel, he said. One diabetic survivor was taken to a naval hospital in San Felipe, said civil protection director Alfredo Escobedo Ortiz.

Survivor Michael Ng of Belmont, California, said the boat was less than two miles (three kilometers) from shore when it capsized and that he other fishermen stayed afloat and swam with the help of a cooler. They were swimming toward shore when he, a fellow survivor and a cook were rescued by another fishing boat.

"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."

Ng said the fishermen went at this time every year aboard the Erik, a 115-foot (35-meter) boat, which Pineda said left Saturday for a seven-day trip.

It capsized about 2:30 a.m. PDT (5:30 a.m. EDT; 0930 GMT) Sunday about 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of San Felipe in a flash storm that Ng said "came and went." Pineda said two giant waves hit the boat, causing it to tip over.

But there was no report of the accident until about midday Sunday after Ng and others were first plucked out of the water, Pineda said.

The navy continued to search Monday with two helicopters, an airplane and 50 personnel. The U.S. Coast Guard is also assisting with a helicopter, Pineda said.

Coast Guard spokeswoman Pamela J. Boehland told The Associated Press that it is believed at least one person aboard the boat was from Port Angeles, Washington.

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.

Calls to Baja Sportsfishing Inc. were unanswered early Monday.


Associated Press writer Phuong Le in Seattle, Washington, contributed to this report.