A sportswriter on a deep-sea fishing assignment for the Daily News of Los Angeles apparently fell overboard early Friday 60 miles off Morro Bay and was listed as missing although a Coast Guard search continued.
Jim Bertken, 36, of Van Nuys, was presumed to have been swept overboard in a bizarre incident that prompted an exhaustive daylong search by air and sea craft. Bertken was reported missing from the fishing vessel at 6:45 a.m., several hours after he had gone on deck in a choppy sea to deal with a bout of sea sickness.
“It’s been one of those shattering blows of reality in a business where we’re all hardened up to everybody else’s troubles,” said Ron Kaye, managing editor of the Daily News, based in Woodland Hills.
“I’ve been here 10 years and I don’t remember anything like this ever happening, where somebody gets it in the line of duty. Right now, we’re still praying that some miracle will happen. He’s still listed as missing.”
A reporter at the Daily News since 1989, Bertken boarded the 65-foot fishing boat Marauder at Avila Bay near Pismo Beach to cover the first significant albacore run in the past decade. The vessel was headed about 80 miles off the coast, according to the boat’s owner, John Howell.
The ship, along with 23 other passengers, left port about 10 p.m. Thursday, Coast Guard officials said. Soon after, the vessel encountered choppy seas--seven foot swells and 20-knot crosswinds.
The rough waters apparently had an effect on Bertken, who friends said frequently suffers seasickness. A crew member told the Coast Guard that Bertken, feeling seasick, left his bunk at about 1:20 a.m. to go on deck to get some air. The crewman assumed he had gone back to bed afterward, the Coast Guard reported.
It wasn’t until the morning call for breakfast, at 6:30, that the crew realized that Bertken was no longer on the ship. The Coast Guard was called moments later, but by that time the craft had ventured some 28 miles from the point where Bertken was last seen.
“It’s really easy to see how this could have happened,” said Jim Matthews of San Bernardino, a fellow outdoors writer for the Daily News. “At night, the decks are going to be wet with choppy water and if you catch a bad swell, you can be popped over the edge real easy. It’s just so tragic.”
An HH-60 helicopter from San Francisco and an HU-25 Guardian jet from San Diego were immediately sent to search the area in a crisscross pattern. The aircraft were followed several hours later by a Coast Guard cutter from Yerba Buena Island, which continued the search through Friday night.
“Our main concern is locating Mr. Bertken,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer Jeff Murphy. “The search is continuing.”
“It’s bizarre,” said Bennett Mintz, 62, of Chatsworth, an active fisherman and friend of Bertken’s. “I just went fishing with him Tuesday. We were supposed to go again this weekend.”
“It’s just awful,” said DeAnne Wahl-Justesen, editor of the Thousand Oaks Star, where Bertken worked as a sportswriter for three years before going to the Daily News. “I know this is going to sound cliche, but he was just a really nice guy. And he did a lot of really good outdoors stuff for us.”
John Howell, who owns the Marauder but was not aboard when Bertken disappeared, was asked if anyone else had ever been lost at sea on one of his fishing trips. “Never,” he replied. “I’ve been here three years. This is a total shock.”