One man was rescued and four others are presumed dead after a San Diego fishing boat capsized off the coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia early Friday morning, Canadian officials said.
The search for the crew of the Quicksilver was called off Friday afternoon after high seas and strong winds were deemed too dangerous for boats and aircraft involved and the chances for survival in the cold waters “improbable,” according to Canadian officials involved in the search.
“We’ve concluded that there’s no probability of finding anybody alive,” said Capt. Bruce McKay of the Canadian Air Force after 11 boats and two aircraft spent 15 hours searching for survivors. “It’s sad, but it’s the hard truth.”
The tuna boat Quicksilver issued a Mayday signal at 1:12 a.m. saying that the vessel was sinking, said Canadian Armed Forces Lt. Cmdr. Mike Considine.
“The report said, basically, we’re sinking and here’s the position and the name of the vessel, and that’s the last we heard from them,” Considine said.
Two airplanes and 11 boats in the area immediately responded to the distress signal but found only an inflated but empty life raft, Considine said.
Four hours later, however, the San Diego fishing boat Defiant located Barry Holmberg who had stayed afloat with a life preserver, but was suffering “severe hypothermia” and was in shock after being rescued from the 54-degree water, said a Canadian Coast Guard officer.
“He was alert and conscious,” Considine said, noting that the water, while extremely cold, was warm for that area, where temperatures generally range from 40 to 50 degrees.
The crew of the Defiant were in constant communication with the British Columbia Emergency Health Services, which gave advice on warming Holmberg, McKay said.
“Holmberg is a remarkable man. His survival is quite phenomenal,” said McKay.
Holmberg was air-lifted from the Defiant to the Port Hardy Hospital where he was in stable condition in the emergency ward, hospital officials said.
Bill Perkins, manager of the Western Fishboat Owners Assn. in San Diego, said the rest of the crew consisted of the owner, Charlie Lagamma, and Bill Taylor, Manuel Falvala, and Holmberg’s son, Rob. Lagamma and the Holmbergs are from the San Diego area; the residence of the other two was unavailable.
Canadian Air Force Capt. McKay said that two people were spotted by the Defiant in the water with Holmberg, including his son, but neither wore life preservers and they both “slipped away” before rescuers could reach them.
An interview with Holmberg revealed that the two others did not get off the vessel before it sank, McKay said.
“We have to conduct these searches to the extent that we’re willing to risk ourselves,” McKay said shortly after the search was called off at 4 p.m. McKay said there are no plans to resume the search.
Considine said the area was experiencing the first storms of the fall season, with winds gusting at 40 knots and waves up to 20 feet.
“It’s rough weather out there, but it’s not uncommon in the fall season,” Considine said.
Don Smoyer, manager of the High Seas Fuel Dock that services the Quicksilver when it’s in San Diego, said the 70-foot steel-hull ship was used for fishing albacore and swordfish and was in good condition when it was last in port in July, just before traveling north.
“It was a real seaworthy boat,” Smoyer said. “I wouldn’t say that it was new, but Charlie (Lagamma) took good care of it and it was in good shape.”
Perkins of the Western Fishing Boat Assn. said he was surprised that the 15-year-old boat capsized.
“That boat’s gone through hurricanes in the South Pacific, and Charlie’s been fishing in (the Northwest) for years and years, and he’s had a lot of experience in bad weather,” Perkins said.
Perkins said Lagamma and his father, Frank, owned the boat and had been in the fishing business “all their lives.”
Quicksilver was one of about 35 boats in the area following the albacore, Perkins said.