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Mexican Navy, US Coast Guard continue search for US tourists off Baja

Seven Americans are still missing after the fishing boat they were on capsized Sunday off the Mexican coast in the Sea of Cortez. One American was killed when the boat sank, but the rest of the crew and passengers were rescued.

By Nacha CattanCorrespondent / July 6, 2011

A Mexican Navy vessel searches the waters of the Gulf of California for survivors of a capsized fishing boat Tuesday. A US tourist died after a fishing boat capsized in an unexpected storm off the Baja California peninsula.

Francisco Vega/AP

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Mexico City

The US Coast Guard said Wednesday it will continue rescue efforts all day to find seven missing Americans whose boat capsized Sunday off Mexico’s coast, as the possibility of survival still exists.

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Coast Guard public affairs specialist Levi Read told The Christian Science Monitor that 80-degree water and air temperature along with family members’ assertions that the missing are experienced fishermen and outdoorsmen have kept hope alive.

At least 43 Americans and Mexicans were stranded in the Sea of Cortez off Mexico’s Baja California peninsula after their chartered fishing boat broke in two and sank.

“The Coast Guard policy is that we continue searching for survivors as long as there’s a possible belief of survivability, and at this point we still believe there is a probability,” Mr. Read said early Wednesday. “There are different calculations that we put into locating and predicting survivability, and ability is one of the aspects.”

Authorities confirmed one American dead, Leslie Yee. All but seven others had been rescued by local fishermen and the Mexican Navy. Twenty seven aboard were US citizens.

Mexican Navy takes lead

The Mexican Navy is leading the search and rescue mission. The Coast Guard is assisting with a C-130 fixed-wing aircraft that has a 3,000-mile range and a crew of seven, Read said. Authorities picked up the search at first light after suspending it Tuesday night.

Survivors of the accident described a fierce storm that overturned their 115-foot boat, the Erik, their first night at sea, according to media reports. Some scrambled aboard two life rafts, while others clung to ice coolers or managed to strap on life vests.

One swimmer managed to reach shore after 17 hours at sea and called for help, Reuters reported.

Cooler full of chocolate

Another, Michael Ng, clung to an ice cooler and started paddling toward an island, The Los Angeles Times reports. The current was dragging him and two others farther into the Gulf, sapping their strength. That's when they reached into the cooler and found Hershey’s Kisses and milk chocolate bars that gave them the strength they needed until they were rescued, The Times reports.

Read said the fishing tourists were surprised in their sleep when the boat began to capsize. All were awakened in time to react before the ship sank, he added.

The boat had set sale for a holiday fishing excursion from San Felipe, Mexico, on the eastern side of the Baja California peninsula. It sank about 60 nautical miles from the coast in the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez, authorities say.

In addition to Mexican Navy efforts, the Baja California state government said it has dedicated six vehicles and one helicopter to the rescue.

“Every minute, every hour, every day that passes decreases the possibility that the missing will be found in good health,” the state government said in a statement Tuesday. “We remain confident that they can still be returned to us.”

The Baja California government had said there were 43 people aboard, while the Coast Guard says there were 44.

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