Vanishing of Vil Vana Still Torments Family

Wendy Miller is editor of Ventura County Life

It was been more than a year since the ocean near Santa Cruz Island seemed to open up and swallow the Vil Vana whole. Seven crewmen were on board the trawler on the day it went down, and the secret of their struggle is buried at sea with them.

While the crew members have found peace, their families have not. They struggle both with what they do know and what they don’t know, and with the role of the U.S. Coast Guard, which, family members claim, has yet to address the many questions that still, 16 months later, go unanswered.

What, in fact, did happen to the Vil Vana? How could a 41-foot fishing boat disappear in the Santa Barbara Channel? What was the Navy stealth ship doing in the channel that day, and what role, if any, did it play in the disappearance of the Vil Vana? Why has the Coast Guard still not filed a final report?

In the face of so much contradiction and irresolution, family members continue to be tormented, the marauding forces of rumor and conjecture violating their desire for quiet acceptance.


Staff writer Jeff Meyers covered the original story that ran on news pages in early April, 1993. It was a story that tugged and nagged and intrigued, and he felt compelled to write an update on the disaster.

“I would check in with family members and feel their anger and frustration over the lack of closure,” Meyers said. “They couldn’t understand why the Coast Guard was taking so long and they were sure the delay meant a government cover-up was taking place.”

Meyers didn’t find any evidence of a cover-up. Visiting the investigating officer at home, he found an overworked lieutenant commander who too often found himself shelving his investigation to take care of other administrative duties.

“Like the next of kin, I was hoping the Coast Guard would uncover a great hook to explain the mystery,” Meyers said. “But the report doesn’t come close to solving the mystery and probably just makes it more ambiguous.”


Still, the Vil Vana remains a compelling story. “We know more now about the boat than we ever have,” Meyers said. “But we still don’t know enough.”

Elsewhere in Life: With summer really bearing down, there is plenty going on this weekend that is outdoors, yet in the vicinity of cooling ocean breezes.

If you like to feel the heat, both inside and out, Jane Hulse’s Jaunts column has pertinent information about the fifth annual Port Hueneme Chili Festival that will be held Saturday at Hueneme Beach Park. Things will get hot and heavy at this event.

If fresh and crunchy sounds better than hot and spicy, there are a couple of other food festivals you might consider attending this weekend. Get the details in Leo Smith’s Tibits column.