The U.S. Coast Guard continued its search and rescue mission on Thursday in the Sea of Cortez in Mexico for seven Bay Area fishermen still missing after their charter boat capsized early Sunday morning.
Two rogue waves hit and sank the 115-foot boat three miles off the coast of Baja California during a storm. Authorities say that so far, 19 American passengers have been rescued, along with all 16 crew members. Leslie Yee, 65, of Ceres, near Modesto, is the only confirmed death.
At 5 a.m. Thursday, a Coast Guard C-130 aircrew lifted off from Sacramento's McClellan Airfield to search another 500 square miles for the missing men. They've flown over more than 1,000 square miles this week. The Mexican navy is coordinating the search and rescue, and numerous Mexican aircraft and vessels are involved.
The odds of finding the missing men alive decline sharply as the days pass. But relatives say the fishermen's outdoor experience and resourcefulness, as well as calm seas and water and air temperatures in the 70s to 80s, give reason to hope they're still alive.
"Survivability charts" have been drawn up for each of the missing men, said Coast Guard public affairs specialist Levi Read. These charts calculate survival odds based on a missing person's weight, height, age, sea temperatures, wind, wave height and other factors, said Lt. Mark Orlando, a Coast Guard pilot who has flown rescue missions with C-130s before, although he's not involved in the Baja operation.
Read declined to state what the charts reveal.
While the warm water wards off the danger of hypothermia, it's still a danger as time passes.
Dehydration is perhaps the biggest threat, as most people can survive without water for only three to five days.
While Coast Guard personnel haven't found anyone missing from the doomed charter boat, the seven-person flight crew has seen debris from the boat such as cushions and ice chests.
Orlando said they even spotted a milk jug. That's significant, he said, as it means visibility is excellent as the plane flies overhead between 500 and 1,000 feet, at about 150 miles per hour. The plane's rear bay doors allow a wide viewing area, he said.
"The confidence that we would spot something in the water is still very high," Orlando said.
The aircraft is also aided by at least one buoy dropped into the water that sends critical information on sea currents via either radio or satellite signal.
Coast Guard and Mexican navy officials Thursday evening expected to discuss whether to continue the operation into Friday, Read said. "It's a day-by-day and sometimes even an hour-by-hour decision," he said.
Suzanne Bohan covers science. Contact her at 510-262-2789. Follow her at Twitter.com/suzbohan.