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Missing mariners found south of Lanai after nearly 2 days


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POSTED: Thursday, November 26, 2009

A massive search-and- rescue effort involving the Coast Guard, Navy, state, Hawaii County and private aviators led to a needle-in-a-haystack happy ending when two mariners missing for nearly two days were spotted about 50 miles south of Lanai.

A Coast Guard rescue helicopter hoisted the sailors from the sea near their disabled boat at 7:15 Tuesday night.

“;When we arrived on scene, the two sails' masts were in the water and the boat was swaying violently in the water,”; said Lt. j.g. Jason Gross, pilot of a Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter. “;After we lowered a rescue swimmer onto the vessel, we determined the best course of action would be to have the two men swim away from the boat, and then we lowered a basket into the water and hoisted them from there.”;

According to a Coast Guard news release, the two men were hired by the owner of the 21-foot sailboat J Bird to ferry it from Keehi Lagoon to Hilo.

When they hadn't arrived by 1:20 a.m. Tuesday, the owner called the Coast Guard to say they might be in trouble. The Coast Guard also got a call from the mother of one of the men.

An extensive search was conducted of marinas and shorelines by the Coast Guard, Big Island fire and police departments, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the Civil Air Patrol out of Hilo.

A C-130 Hercules and HH-65 helicopter from Barbers Point followed search patterns established at the Coast Guard's command center in Honolulu. A Navy P-3 Orion patrol plane from Kaneohe also joined in the search.

The crews covered more than 10,000 square miles searching for the sailors along the coastlines of Lanai, Maui, Kahoolawe and much of the Big Island, the Coast Guard said.

The C-130 crew spotted a flare from the sailboat south of Lanai at about 6:45 p.m. Tuesday — just before it was due to return to Oahu to refuel. Despite its low fuel, the C-130 remained on the scene until the helicopter arrived.

“;This one could have turned out much differently,”; said Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Soule, a Coast Guard search-and-rescue planner. “;We received tremendous cooperation from the DLNR, Navy and Hawaii County officials and were able to cover a huge area — and those two guys were fortunate.”;

The two mariners were flown back to Barbers Point and air crew members who had finished work gave them rides home, the Coast Guard said.