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Mexico searches for 7 people missing in boating accident
SAN FELIPE, Mexico -- They are fathers, fiances and experienced fishermen.
The seven U.S. tourists still missing two days after their boat capsized off Mexico's coast went to sea as they had for several years on the U.S. Independence Day holiday -- they wanted to fish and have a good time.
On Tuesday, their shipmates anxiously awaited word as the Mexican navy and the U.S. Coast Guard expanded their search in the Gulf of California, holding out hope that the missing were able to survive in the gulf's balmy waters.
"Every hour he's still missing, hope gets hit with reality," said Gary Wong, whose younger brother, Brian, 54, of Berkeley, Calif., is among the missing tourists.
A local TV station in California erroneously reported that Brian Wong, who works in personnel for Alameda County and has two grown daughters, was the among the dead, leaving the family to calm his frantic wife.
A sudden storm struck early Sunday, capsizing the 115-foot vessel, the Erik. The crew and the fishermen clung to coolers, rescue rings and life vests for more than 16 hours.
The navy and other fishing boats plucked 19 fishermen and all 16 crew members from the water late Sunday. The vessel sank about 60 miles south of the port of San Felipe. At least one American has been confirmed dead. His identity has not been release.
Sunday was the second day of a weeklong fishing trip the group had organized for several years each Independence Day holiday. They had planned to fish for yellowtail.
Gary Wong was celebrating his first day of retirement on the trip with three brothers. He said his brothers, including Craig and Glen, took the trip twice before.
Wong thought he was going to die as the storm tossed the boat.
"I thought, 'Oh my God, my first day of retirement and I go down on a boat," he said. "All that work for what? To be six feet under."
The search was expanded to a wider area and continued with helicopters and aircraft. Divers also prepared to search the wreckage, which is in water more than 200 feet deep.
Wong, who was trained as a first responder in his job with the East Bay Municipal Water District, has become the spokesman for the families seeking information about their loved ones.
He has been able to bring good news to some families, telling them that the reason they couldn't reach a fisherman was only because he was asleep in his hotel room.
Don Lee, an experienced fisherman who is also missing, brought all 27 together, Wong said.
"He does everything, he makes everything happen," he said. "He always says 'Don't worry, don't worry, I have everything in hand.' "
Mark Dorland, 62, was reportedly one of the first to go overboard and didn't have a life vest. He is set to get married in a month.
Russell Bautista, 60, of Penngrove, Calif., is also missing. The retired Pacific Bell worker and avid fisherman who often took others fishing or crabbing.
"He's taught a lot of people to fish," wife Joelle Bautista said. "Our son went out with him a lot."
The U.S. Coast Guard sent a C-130 aircraft that can stay in the air longer and search farther than the helicopter it used Monday, said Petty Officer Levi Read.
Three helicopters from Mexico's navy, the state of Baja California and the city of Mexicali were also searching, said Baja California state Civil Protection Director Alfredo Escobedo Ortiz.
Mexican navy Capt. Benjamin Pineda Gomez said that with the warm weather and water temperature in the Gulf of California, it's still possible that the missing tourists are alive.
"A person who casts away can survive many days," he said. "That sea is calm."
Wong said the survivors were also trying to figure out way they could help in the rescue.
Wearing T-shirts donated by souvenir vendors, they walked around the port city of San Felipe, trying to hire people with boats to go out into the gulf.
The boat company, Baja Sportfishing, once worked out of San Diego, but owner Alexander Velez let the license expire last year, said Roz Cockerham, a San Diego city tax representative.
It was unclear whether the company had moved to another city or relocated to Mexico, where its boats departed.
The Baja Sportfishing website said they could not respond to messages and that all trips have been canceled.
Associated Press writers Olga R. Rodriguez in Mexico City; Paul Elias in San Francisco, California and Julie Watson in San Diego, California, contributed to this report.