A 17-foot Boston Whaler that disappeared on a one-day fishing trip with five people aboard in 1979 has been discovered on an isolated atoll in the Marshall Islands, 2,054 miles away and nearly nine years later, the Coast Guard announced Wednesday.
There were no survivors.
The vessel Sarah Joe and a shallow grave with a crude cross was discovered on Sept. 28 by a team from the U.S. Marine Fisheries Service on uninhabited Sibylla Island, Coast Guard Petty Officer Keith Spangler said.
The fisheries service team reported the Sarah Joe, which had left Hana, Maui, on Feb. 11, 1979, for a one-day fishing trip was damaged and appeared to have been driven onto the atoll, located in the northernmost group of atolls in the Marshall Islands, by a storm.
Forensic Team Sent
After the wreck was positively identified by registration and engine numbers, the Coast Guard sent six search teams and a two-man forensic team from Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu to the remote island to recover the vessel and search for remains, Spangler said.
Last week, the teams returned to the wreckage, which was located about 50 yards inland, Spangler said. The shallow grave had been dug 500 yards inland from the boat.
A search of the island and six adjacent atolls failed to uncover any other burial sites, and only one set of remains was recovered from the grave, he said.
The boat and the remains were taken to Kwajelin by a Coast Guard vessel and then flown to Honolulu.
The Army’s Central Identification Laboratory, which works with the remains of American MIAs, will attempt to identify the remains recovered from the atoll, Spangler said.
The five people on board the Sarah Joe when it disappeared in 1979 were identified as Ralph Malaiakina, Benjamin Kalama, Peter Hanchett, Scott Mooreman and Patrick Woesner, all of Maui.
They left Hana on the morning of Feb. 11, 1979, and were caught in a sudden storm that developed about midday. The last time anyone heard from the Sarah Joe was about four hours after it left Hana, when the men used a CB radio to report their engine had died.
A five-day search by Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Civil Air Patrol and private planes; private boats, and three Navy-trained spotter pigeons, used for the first time in an actual search operation, covered 56,000 square miles.
The case was suspended on Feb. 16, 1979, after there had been no sightings, Spangler said.