The mothership is located in just 147 feet of water 2 miles offshore as survivors and survivors’ families lobby the U.S. government to recover the seven bodies of those believed to still be with the ship
“These are our guys. Those men still on that ship are American veterans and we need to bring those boys home to their families.”
Jerry Garcia, Novato, survivor of the Erik sinkingSAN FELIPE — The boat has been found and a lobbying effort is underway to bring back the bodies of loved ones. Nearly a year after the 105-foot mothership Erik sank in an electrical storm July 3, 2011 on its way to fishing the Midriff islands area, it was found last week in waters approximately 147 deep, 75 miles south of San Felipe but just 2 miles offshore, WON learned.
Survivors’ confirmed to WON on Friday that the mystery of where the ship lay was solved when a boat’s shrimp net became entangled in the structure of the ship that American divers this week said was sitting in a vertical position. It was always believed the ship had sunk farther offshore in deeper waters. That is good news and has spurred intense lobbying by the families to have the U.S. government mount a recovery of the bodies.
One man died and seven others are still missing from among 27 Northern California fishermen who chartered the Erik.
Charles Gibson, chief of Contra Costa Community College District and one of the survivors who spent 14 hours in the Sea of Cortez, told fellow survivors and their family members in a conference call last Thursday that divers had found the wreckage of the San Felipe-based mothership ship. The incident captured national media attention last July when it sank. The ordeals of the men were recounted in WON, websites and national media outlets, first as a story of survival, but later controversy and bitterness erupted over the lack of safety equipment when passengers related that no lifejackets were issued to the passengers as the boat took over water in rough seas, capsized and sank within 10 minutes.
In the months since, families of the dead fishermen and survivors have staged fundraisers to provide equipment and manpower to scan the waters off Isla San Luis for signs of the ship. At least one extensive effort over 14 days several months ago spearheaded by Joe Jacinto, Al Mein’s son, failed to find the ship in a 14-mile radius search, but the search focused on deeper water off Puntas Bufeo whre the ship sank two miles offshore. The shrimp trawler's entangled nets finally — and luckily — provided the needed clue to his resting place.
"It is bittersweet," survivor Charles Gibson told the Contra Costa County Times. "This story seems to never have an ending, and I don't know if it will in my mind and for the families of the missing."
More information will be forthcoming as the location of the ship has been turned over to the Mexican Navy, and now comes the decision-making by the families. Do they dive on the ship and recover the bodies that are believed to be trapped in the boat, or do they leave it as a memorial? Are all the missing men's bodies in their staterooms?
WON interviews of survivors after the tragedy confirmed that at least one American was trapped on the deck of the boat as it sank. Thus, it is likely that all seven of the missing men's bodies are not likely to still be with the ship. It is something for the families to consider in their decision to leave the ship as a memorial, or to recover the remains of those were trapped in their staterooms.
The following were survivors: Charles Gibson, Gary Hanson, Michael Kui Min Ng, Jim Miller, Steven Sloneker, Richard Ciabattari, Lee Ikegami, Gary Wong, Craig Wong, Pius “Pete” Zuger, David Levine, Jerry Garcia, Bruce Marr, Joe Beeler, Robert Higgins, Ross Anderson, Dennis Deluca, Warren Tsurumoto and Glen Wong. Leslie Yee, 63 of Ceres, of Ceres, CA was confirmed dead. His body washed up on the shore of a remote island.
Those fishermen who remain missing who are thought to still be in their staterooms on the Erik are: Al Mein, of Twain Harte, CA, Don Lee of San Ramon, CA, Gene Leong of Dublin, CA, Brian Wong of Berkeley, the trip’s chartermaster Russell Bautista of Penngrove, CA, Shawn Chaddock of Petaluma, CA and Mark Dorland of Twain Harte, CA.
Joe Jacinto, Al Mein's stepson, has been the lead man among the families searching in the Sea of Cortez, reported the Contra Costa Times. He and Capt. Wings Stocks and KC Stocks of Santa Cruz-based Adventure, Depth and Technology, dove on the vessel after receiving coordinates from the shrimp trawler. It was Jacinto who has worked to get Mexican government officials okay in the past year to search for the vessel, and to dive on the wreckage.
The team has turned over the location of the wreckage, located 75 miles south of San Felipe, to the Mexican Navy. Jerry Garcia of Novato was among the survivors and provided much of the account of the incident as he was outside on deck when the waves smashing into the Erik. A press conference was slated at Gary Hanson’s home with several other survivors.
“We’re trying to generate something with the government so we can shame them to going down there and recovering those guys,” said Garcia. “These are our guys. Those men still on that ship are American veterans and we need to bring those boys home to their families. Back when we were looking for the ship, the U.S. government wanted to declare it a ‘burial at sea’ but now that the ship has been located, it’s a different story.”
Garcia said the boat was believed to be in water as deep at 350 feet, but not so. It lies in just 147 feet of water, although that will vary with a 20-foot tide differential.
“That’s not that deep, but the currents Joe said are very strong at 100 feet,” said Garcia. “At 147 feet, it’s not that big of a deal, but with the nets all over it, it’s touchy.”
Garcia said Joe Jacinto and fellow divers did not have a lot of time to look over the ship and did not go into it, but confirmed it was the Erik and took pictures of the ship with the shrimp trawl nets draped on it.
Controversy centered on the captain’s decision-making during the violent story, the crew’s ignorance of maritime law, the fact a mayday was not sent by the captain, and no lifejackets were provided to the American passengers. Although some had brought their own inflatable vests and those who made it off the ship before it sank clung to anything that floated, such as ice chests, to survive.
Family of the missing, survivors the Mr. Yee have organized a blog that also provides information on the men lost and previous media accounts and even news media video after the rescue by Americans living in San Felipe. The website is wwwfindourfathers.org. The original blog and article on the sinking of the Erik which recently won the Outdoor Writer’s competition for best column can be found at on Pat McDonell's blog.
Pat McDonell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
THE 105-FOOT ERIK, which sank July 3 of last year, was found in waters 2 miles off Punta Bufeo, 75 miles south of San Felipe. The ship is believed to hold many of the bodies of the seven missing men. Eight men perished in the sinking.