Families of missing boaters hold press conference

July 6, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Time is running out in the search for the seven men who are still missing after their fishing boat capsized off the coast of Mexico. The families of two of the men have set up their own command center in the dining room of a San Ramon home.

Also, State Sen. Leland Yee and family members representing three of the seven missing fishermen -- Donald Lee, Albert Mein and Russell Bautista -- gathered in San Francisco this evening to provide an update about search efforts.

Yee said that his office was contacted this morning by family members of Lee, the organizer of the Bay Area contingent's annual fishing trip.

The family asked for help from Yee's office after Mexican authorities failed to provide answers about the search's progress. The Mexican navy requested the Coast Guard's assistance in the search Monday morning.

The families were told that the search would end after 96 hours even though prior boating accidents in the area have convinced them otherwise.

Water temperatures in the area where the boat capsized are relatively warm -- 80 degrees -- a factor that the Coast Guard and Mexican navy said could prevent hypothermia, one of the biggest threats for capsized swimmers.

Members of Yee's office contacted the Mexican Consulate, which said it would do everything in its power to keep the search going and that the Mexican navy captain leading the efforts is committed to the search, Yee said.

The U.S. Coast Guard has agreed to continue searching for the men on Thursday morning on their specially-equipped C-130 aircraft. That decision came late Wednesday evening and partially as the result of a full-court press by the friends and family of the missing men to keep the search and their hope alive.

"We need our dads to come home and we need our uncles and our friends to come home. And at this point we need federal muscle and power to help us," said Mandi Lee, Don's daughter.

"Locals say that fishermen can be lost for seven days or so and still be found OK, so we really want to get the word out to keep pressure on keeping the search going," said Jonathan Carver, Don's son-in-law.

Inside the house, there is a phone bank and social networking nerve center, where family members are reaching to anyone with knowledge or connections that could help them find the missing men. Nearly all the information is coming to them secondhand.

"We keep getting conflicting reports, conflicting information, but when we get the good news, it's great, when we get the bad news, we prepare, but it's been a roller coaster," said Janine Lee, Don Lee's daughter.

Though the U.S. Coast Guard is helping with the search, it's taking place in Mexican waters. So the Coast Guard can only continue searching with Mexico's permission.

"There's many factors and the Coast Guard and the Mexican authorities will discuss all factors in coming up with a decision on when to suspend or how long to continue with the search," said Petty Ofc. Levi Read.

"If he's out there, he's alive. He's a fighting. I know him, he's a fighter," said Janine.

Family members say survival and safety were always top priorities for the missing men.

"He just bought a new life vest last weekend before he went and it was an automatic inflatable vest, and I knew he was going to wear it to sleep. And the weather was bad," said Craig Leong, Gene Leong's son.

In fact, survivors told the family the weather was terrible on the Sea of Cortez, but the captain never warned them.

"Not one of them, if they had known that there was a storm coming in, that they would've taken that risk to go out there," said May Lee, Don's wife.

Still, the families remain hopeful.

"We're going to get...we're going to get them back. We know we are," said Mandi.

The Coast Guard will have completed by Wednesday evening 1,000 out of the 1,500 square miles of the search area. They've been doing about 500 miles a day, which means by Thursday evening, they may have completed searching the entire area with the specialized aircraft. As for searching in the days after Thursday, that decision will be made on a day-by-day basis.

Bay City News contributed to this report


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