Coast Guard calls off search for boaters

Coast Guard Calls Off Search for Boaters

by Peter Franceschina

News-Press staff writer

November, 1997

Copyright News-Press


Four white air tanks.  An aqua Body Glove dive bag.  A single orange life preserver.

After seven days of vainly scouring Gulf waters, U.S. Coast Guard officials Thursday called off the search and turned over all they had found to the families of three Canadian tourists missing since their boat sank off Marco Island last Friday.

The searchers could give the families little hope that the three young men still might be alive.

Thursday night, Coast Guard officials decided to suspend the search unless there are further developments.  They were frustrated their efforts had been futile, in near-perfect search conditions.

“With the search conditions the way they were, I’m baffled we didn’t find more.  I’m really puzzled, “ said Matthew McGlynn, commanding officer of the 82-foot Coast Guard cutter Point Steele, which spent five days at sea looking for the missing men.

A Naples marine salvage operator raised the 25-foot, twin-engine boat, named the Sea Esta, Thursday afternoon.  The Coast Guard made a preliminary inspection of the boat, which appears to be sound, McGlynn said.

Jeff Wandich, 27, of Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto, had come to Marco Island to visit his father.  Three of his friends, David Madott, Omar Shearer and Kent Munro, all 25, joined him on a spur-of-the-moment vacation.

Munro’s sister, Krista Munro, and his uncle, Paul Munro, spent about two hours Thursday in a private plane over the sparkling Gulf waters that appeared so benign.

“The conditions were absolutely fantastic,” said Krista Munro, 30, who strained to contain her emotions.  “It looked so calm and flat, so pretty, but it’s not pretty when you’re searching for someone.”

The family suffered more than one blow Thursday, Munro’s father, Peter, suffered a heart attack earlier in the day and was listed in stable condition at Lee Memorial Hospital’s Health Park campus.

The Sea Esta sank last Friday afternoon in 3 to 5 foot seas while the men were diving a wreck about 51 miles southwest of Cape Romano.  Wandich says he became separated from his friends as they swam toward a floating light tower five miles to the southeast.

Wandich made it to the tower after an arduous swim; the others didn’t.  After 36 hours on the tower, Wandich was spotted Sunday by a Coast Guard helicopter and rescued.  Thursday, a shadow alongside a swell, the disturbance on the water created a pod of dolphins, were enough to set their hearts somersaulting.

-240“Your mind and your eyes start to play tricks on you,” she said.  “It gets your adrenaline flowing, and then you look again and you realize it wasn’t what you thought at all.”

As Krista Munro talked outside the Coast Guard station on San Carlos Island, the pleasure ship SeaKruz sailed by on its way to its slip in Matanzas Pass.  Laughter and music wafted across the water, but Krista Munro didn’t notice as she quietly vowed to continue the search.

“If we stop we might as well give up hope....We’re going again, we have to.  We have to...”

The family members walked slowly up the dock to meet the eight member crew of the Point Steele, which docked shortly before 4 p.m. Thursday.  They wrapped their arms around one another for support as they talked with the crew for a few minutes and thanked them.

Then crew members helped Omar Shearer’s brother, Lloyd, and David Madott’s brother, Dan, carry the air tanks, dive bag and life vest to the trunk of a rental car.

McGlynn said the Sea Esta carried two 225-horsepower Johnson engines, which could have made the stern of the boat only half a foot above the water and susceptible to taking on water in rough seas.

“It could be a problem.  If there were no leaks, it’s likely the water came over the back,’ said McGlynn, adding the Coast Guard will do a more thorough inspection of the boat.

Island Marine Towing pulled the Sea Esta from about 108 feet of water, said diver Nevin McLaren.  “The boat was flipped over, but otherwise it’s in pretty good shape,” said McLaren, adding there was a 12-pack of beer, a flare and flaregun on the boat.

McLaren agreed the rear of the boat was heavy:  “There was a lot of horsepower on that back end.”

For the Coast Guard crew on the Point Steele, ther lack of success was difficult to understand.  Everything seeemd right for a rescue. The weather was clear, the tides and winds predictable.  They had good information from Wandich where to search.

“With all the information we had,” said Coast Guard spokesman Gene Maestas, “we should have found them.”

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