4 missing fishermen presumed dead off Washington coast

Mar 12 2012 - 6:57am

SEATTLE -- Four commercial fishermen whose boat disappeared off the southwest Washington coast early Saturday are presumed dead.

The Coast Guard suspended its search for the four men Sunday morning, about 30 hours after the Lady Cecelia's distress signal was received.

Petty Officer Shawn Eggert, a Coast Guard spokesman in Seattle, said the search for the men went on longer than they could have survived in the water, given the weather, water conditions and other factors.

The missing crew members were identified as Dave Nichols, 42, and Jason Bjaranson, 38, both of Warrenton, Ore.; Luke Jensen, 19, from Ilwaco, Wash.; and Chris Langel, 25, from Kaukauna, Wis.

The distress signal from the Lady Cecelia, a 70-foot fishing trawler based in Warrenton, was received at 3:37 a.m. Saturday. A nearby buoy recorded water temperatures of 43 degrees around that time.

The first search crews arrived at the site indicated by the distress signal--about 17 miles west of Leadbetter Point at Willapa Bay--and found debris, an oil sheen and a fully inflated but empty life raft, Eggert said.

There was no record of any mayday radio call from the Lady Cecelia, according to Eggert. The Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon that set off the distress signal goes off automatically as a vessel sinks.

Life rafts are designed to self-inflate and float free from a sinking vessel even when no one is able to launch them, said Brad Pettinger, director of the Oregon Trawl Commission. Hence, the presence of the raft does not necessarily mean the crew had time to deploy it.

Searchers--including two Coast Guard cutters, a C-130 search plane and several helicopters--covered more than 640 square miles of ocean without finding any sign of the missing men.

Despite the suspension, Eggert said, "if we get information that leads us to believe we can locate these people, we will get our boats and helicopters out there to look for them."

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(c)2012 The Seattle Times

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