The missing fishing vessel that capsized during a violent storm in the Sea of Cortez off Mexico almost a year ago has been found, a relative of one of the missing men and a survivor confirmed Thursday.
One man died and seven others are still missing from among 27 Northern California fishermen who chartered the Erik, which divers found this week months after a shrimping boat's nets became entangled in the wreckage of the boat, said Charles Gibson, chief of Contra Costa Community College District and a survivor of the ill-fated charter fishing trip July 3. Divers were summoned and they confirmed that it was the Erik, and the ship was lying vertically on the sea floor, said Gibson, who was briefed during a conference call Thursday with other survivors and missing fishermen's families.
"It is bittersweet," Gibson said. "This story seems to never have an ending, and I don't know if it will in my mind and for the families of the missing."
The fishermen chartered the Erik for a six-day excursion, but the 105-foot boat went down amid 20- and 40-foot swells. The search crew -- spearheaded by family members of lost fishermen Al Mein, who were on their fourth search -- have yet to make it inside the wreck to see whether any bodies are inside, said Dena Jacinto, Mein's daughter-in-law.
"We're so excited that we found the Erik," Jacinto said. "It's definitely a step in the right direction to bring closure to the families."
Joe Jacinto, Mein's stepson, has been searching in the Sea of Cortez, along with Capt. Wings Stocks and KC Stocks of Santa Cruz-based Adventure, Depth and Technology, for the vessel. Mexican government officials have allowed the team access and provided equipment for the searches, Dena Jacinto said. The team has turned over the location of the wreckage, 75 miles south of San Felipe, to the Mexican Navy.
Along with Mein, of Twain Harte, the six other missing fishermen are Don Lee of San Ramon, Gene Leong of Dublin, Brian Wong of Berkeley, Russell Bautista of Penngrove, Shawn Chaddock of Petaluma and Mark Dorland of Twain Harte.
Leslie Yee, 63, of Ceres was the one confirmed fatality from the wreck.
"We have been left never knowing where the ship was or about the bodies entombed," said Gibson, who spent 14 hours at sea on an empty ice chest after watching the Erik go down. "For the families it could be an opportunity to get some closure and have funerals with the remains."
Finding out what lies inside the wreck would be difficult and costly, Gibson said, so families will discuss whether to pay for a recovery dive or leave the wreckage as is as a memorial.
The family of trip organizer Don Lee was still digesting the news Thursday afternoon. Frederick Han, Lee's son-in-law, said many families had begun to reach closure in the nearly 12 months following the tragedy.
"This raises another set of issues," Han said. "Even though they found it, what do they do now? It almost creates more anxiety."
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.