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1 dead, 8 missing after fishing boat capsizes off Mexico

One person was reported dead and eight others were missing Monday after a fishing boat carrying 27 U.S. tourists and 17 Mexican crew members capsized in rough seas in the Gulf of California, officials said.

The tourists, most of them from California, were aboard the charter vessel Erik when a storm suddenly struck about 2:30 a.m. Sunday, hurling people into the water off San Luis Island, about 60 miles south of the Baja California port of San Felipe, the Mexican navy said.

“The weather was calm, and then a strong wind came,” said Dora Winkler, a spokeswoman with the Port of San Felipe.

Some survivors swam for miles before they were rescued.

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Richard Ciabattari, 62, was afloat for 12 hours before reaching the shore, said his wife, Jan Askew of Novato. He swam about eight miles and, unlike several others on the boat, was wearing a life jacket, she said.

Ciabattari, a part-time usher for the San Francisco Giants, was not supposed to go on the trip, but went for free after another passenger dropped out at the last minute.

“I just feel like we’re very lucky,” Askew said. “I’m glad he’s a good fisherman and I’m glad he’s a good swimmer.”

Search operations were underway Monday as Mexican naval crews were joined by local fishing boats and a U.S. Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from San Diego, officials said. Searchers were scouring the waters around San Luis Island, about 200 miles southeast of San Diego.

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Mexican officials said some survivors were wearing life jackets. They appeared to be in good condition, but were taken to hospitals before being dropped off at area hotels, the Mexican navy said. One person, a diabetic, was treated at a naval hospital in San Felipe.

One of the victims was able to swim ashore and alert Mexican officials, Coast Guard Petty Officer Pamela Boehland said.

“He swam to shore and actually walked to the nearest location,” she said, adding that she was unsure whether it was a town or village.

Some of the first people rescued — two tourists and the ship’s cook — were swimming together when they were plucked from the water by crew members of a Mexican fishing boat, according to Winkler.

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All of the 17 Mexican crew members were accounted for, Winkler said. The tourist who died was identified as an adult male.

Boehland said the Coast Guard was told by the Mexican navy that most of the passengers were from Northern California and that one was from Port Angeles, Wash.

The fishing trip was scheduled for Saturday through Thursday in the Midriff Islands, a popular destination for sports fishing in the Gulf of California, according to the website for Jig Stop Tackle & Tours which books passengers on the vessel.

The 105-foot-long Erik holds a maximum of 27 passengers and is outfitted with air-conditioned rooms and nine launches, according to the website. Representatives from the company could not be reached Monday for comment.

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robert.lopez@latimes.com

david.zahniser@latimes.com


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