As the window closes for locating Bay Area passengers lost at sea when the charter fishing boat they were on capsized off the Baja California coast early Sunday morning, one local lawmaker is fighting to keep the search alive.
More than forty people, including a group of fisherman from various Bay Area cities who were on a trip together, were aboard the boat operated by the fishing excursion company Baja Sportfishing Inc. when it sank Sunday at 2:30 a.m. in the Sea of Cortez near Isla San Luis, Mexico.
Seven people are missing and one man died, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Rough seas capsized the sport fishing charter boat, which had been carrying 27 U.S. tourists and 16 Mexican crew members at the time.
State Sen. Leland Yee and family members representing three of the seven missing fishermen–Donald Lee, Albert Mein and Russell Bautista–gathered in San Francisco this evening to provide an update about search efforts.
Yee said that his office was contacted this morning by family members of Lee, the organizer of the Bay Area contingent’s annual fishing trip.
The family asked for help from Yee’s office after Mexican authorities failed to provide answers about the search’s progress. The Mexican navy requested the Coast Guard’s assistance in the search Monday morning.
The families were told that the search would end after 96 hours even though prior boating accidents in the area have convinced them otherwise.
Water temperatures in the area where the boat capsized are relatively warm — 80 degrees–a factor that the Coast Guard and Mexican navy said could prevent hypothermia, one of the biggest threats for capsized swimmers.
Members of Yee’s office contacted the Mexican Consulate, which said it would do everything in its power to keep the search going and that the Mexican navy captain leading the efforts is committed to the search, Yee said.
“We urge the Mexican authorities to continue the search,” he said. Although Mexican authorities told Yee’s office that the search would continue beyond 96 hours, Yee said they did not cite a specific length.
More than 1,100 square miles have already been searched, according to the Coast Guard.
This was the first year that the Bay Area fishermen had planned to spend their nights at sea instead of staying at motels along the Baja coast for the duration of the trip.
Victor Lee, brother of Donald Lee, said that the family has been told that the captain of the fishing boat was arrested for operating without a license.
Although Donald Lee does not have any wilderness training, his attitude might save him, said his brother, who called him tough, smart and resourceful and said that he has a “takes no prisoners” kind of attitude.
Family members of four of the missing Bay Area men have organized a Facebook page, Find our Fathers, which asks anyone with information about the boating accident to contact Sarah Schmidt of the U.S. Consulate.
Janna Brancolini/Patricia Decker, Bay City News