Search Continues in Mexico for 7 Men After Fishing Boat Sinks

Coast Guard and Mexican Navy are searching after boat capsizes off Mexico.

ByBianna Golodryga, Lauren Effron and Kevin Dolak
July 05, 2011, 3:06 AM

July 5, 2011— -- The U.S. Coast Guard and Mexican Navy are scouring the Sea of Cortez by boat and helicopter in a continuing effort to locate the seven U.S. tourists still missing after the sinking of a charter boat off the coast of Mexico Sunday.

One U.S. tourist died.

The Coast Guard will be using a larger aircraft in its search today that is capable of covering greater distances, U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Pamela Boehland said. The Coast Guard expects to be up in the air over the Sea of Cortez around 10:30 a.m. PT. The Mexican Navy is expected to deploy the same two helicopters it has been using .

Seven Americans are still missing, according to Mexican officials. The identity of the dead man has yet to be released.

The boat, carrying a total of 44 passengers and crew, capsized when it was hit by two giant waves, according to Capt. Benjamin Pineda Gomez of the Mexican Navy. Twenty-seven Americans and 16 crew members were on board the 115-foot-catamaran, which was called the Erik and was operated by the tourism company Baja Fishing.

The vessel was supposed to take the group and crew on a week-long vacation -- an annual Fourth of July outing for a group of friends from Northern California -- but it was caught in a thunderstorm and capsized around 2:30 a.m. Sunday, about 60 miles south of San Felipe, in the Mexican state of Baja California.

The Mexican Navy says there was no Mayday call, so for more than 12 hours no one was aware of the situation. The Navy added that the ship's cook was instrumental in alerting authorities that the boat had gone down after being rescued by a fisherman.

The rescue operation also began after a second local fisherman spotted three survivors at sea. In the next several hours, 19 passengers and 16 crew members were rescued by Navy ships or passing vessels after clinging to coolers, rescue rings and life vests, according to the Associated Press.

"When the vessel sank it was close enough to shore that some people were able to swim to shore," the Coast Guard's Boehland said. "Other people were picked up by good Samaritan vessels that were in the area. Others were rescued by the Mexican Navy."

Among the rescued was American Lee Ikegami, who was on a fishing trip with his buddies. Ikegami spoke to his wife from a hotel, where crews were taking the rescued.

"Somewhere around 10ish last night my husband called and said his boat capsized and that he is fine ? I was in shock," Murphy Ikegami, Lee Ikegami's wife, told ABC News.

"All I know is at that time he was not in contact with any of his friends and didn't know how they were. He was at one end of the boat and was thrown into the sea," she added.

Murphy Ikegami also said the fishermen made the trip every year but typically would take day trips out to sea to fish, while they stayed in hotels at night. This year, however, they decided they wanted to sleep on the boat, she told the Associated Press.

Lee Ikegami says he still has no idea what happened to his friends.

Charles Gibson, a police officer from California, was another member of the group of passengers on the boat.

"Members of the Mexican military, the Mexican State Secretary of Tourism and the American consulate, have all been very helpful ... extremely ... in helping us get through this turmoil and this tumultuous situation," Gibson said.

The U.S. Consulate General in Tijuana, Mexico, released a statement saying their staff had met with all surviving Americans at a hotel in San Felipe and they were working with Mexican officials to provide return transportation back to the United States for the American survivors.

"We have been in touch with families of some but not all of the missing Americans," the statement said.

According to an Internet advertisement, the Erik has been operating in the Sea of Cortez since 1989 and can sleep up to 42 guests.

San Felipe is a popular vacation spot known for its scuba diving and sport fishing.

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