Lost fishermen still cast shadow 30 years later


POSTED: Friday, February 20, 2009

WAILUKU » The five men left Hana Bay on a fishing trip on a 17-foot motorboat on a calm morning.

But the weather turned to a gale quickly, and by late afternoon on Feb. 11, 1979, the wife of one of the men notified the Coast Guard that they were missing.

At noon tomorrow the community of Hana will hold a service at Hana Bay to remember the loss of the crew of the Sarah Joe.

“;We kind of want to put closure to it,”; said Ulu Helekahi, then married to missing crew member Benjamin Kalama. Kalama, then 38, who worked as a construction tile setter, was the oldest crew member and had five children.

The other missing crew members were Scott Moorman, 27; Patrick Woessner, 26; Peter Hanchett, 31; and Ralph Malaiakini, 27.

Helekahi said some Hana men went out on boats to search that night.

“;It was really bad. They couldn't see anything,”; she said.

Malaiakini's twin brother, Robert, who owned the boat, which had an 85-horsepower engine, said the five men had been building Ralph's house and decided to take a day off to go fishing.

He said Hanchett was a plumber, Woessner and Moorman were carpenters and his brother operated his own trucking company.

“;That's why they were together,”; he said.

Robert Malaiakini, a fisherman, said when he went out on a 25-foot boat looking for the five men, the ocean was perhaps the roughest he has ever experienced.

He said he said the swells were about 40 feet high, sometimes breaking at the crest, and the winds were blowing at more than 40 mph in Alenuihaha Channel.

The Coast Guard searched for four days, and the families and friends continued the search for four weeks.

Then, in 1988, a Hawaii man who was involved in the search was on Taongi atoll in the northern part of the Marshall Islands - roughly 2,200 miles southwest of the Hawaiian Islands - when he saw a battered boat with Hawaii registry numbers belonging to the Sarah Joe.

John Naughton, then a biologist with National Marine Fisheries Service, also found a grave on the atoll with a cross made from driftwood with the remains of a buried body that later was confirmed to be Moorman.

“;It's one of those mysteries of the sea,”; said Naughton, now retired.

Family members of the survivors do not know to this day who buried the body, what happened to the other four men or whether Moorman was alive when the boat reached Taongi.

The story of the five men was later to become an episode in the TV series “;Unsolved Mysteries.”;

Hawaii private investigator Steve Goodenow, who later accompanied a group to the island, said he believed some Chinese fishermen found the body and buried it but did not tell anyone because they were fishing there illegally.

Malaiakini, who has kept the battered Sarah Joe in his back yard, said he thinks Moorman might have tied himself to the boat to weather the storm.

Malaiakini, who later took a trip to the Marshall Islands to view the grave with Goodenow and former TV “;Let's Go Fishing”; host Hari Kojima, said he is doubtful anyone on the Sarah Joe could have survived a 2,200-mile journey southwest to Taongi.

The group installed a memorial plaque on Taongi atoll, and a similar plaque has been put in place at Hana Bay.

Helekahi said the event tomorrow is being held in part to make sure that younger generations remember the loss of the five crew members.

She said she encourages boats out of Hana to have EPIRBs (emergency position indicating radio beacons) that can transmit the location of a vessel in an emergency.

“;If they had that, maybe they would have been saved,”; she said.