SAN JOSE, Calif. -- They all looked so happy standing there in flip-flops and Bermuda shorts on the Mexican beach of San Felipe, six buddies from the San Francisco Bay Area with broad smiles about to head out on what was supposed to be the fishing trip of their lifetimes.
Don Lee of San Ramon, 62, who organized the trip that included a total of 27 friends and relatives, wore a Panama hat and gave the camera a thumbs-up sign, as if they would encounter nothing but smooth sailing and plentiful fish.
But little more than a day later, the picture turned into a haunting image, with one of them dead and Lee and two others missing. On Tuesday, two men in the photo -- Lee Ikegami of San Martin and Mike Ng of Belmont -- called home to loved ones.
"I've never seen my husband this upset before," Ikegami's wife, Murphy, said Tuesday after talking to him by phone at the El Capitan hotel in San Felipe. "He's absolutely devastated."
Also Tuesday, U.S. Coast Guard helicopters circled over the Sea of Cortez, looking across the calm and warm waters for a total of seven missing fishermen from the capsized boat that was named Erik.
Many swam to shore or clung to ice chests or life rafts for upward of 16 hours before being rescued. Ikegami told his wife Tuesday that most of the passengers were sleeping in their cabins at about 2:30 a.m. Sunday -- less than a day into the six-day excursion -- when the first wave broadsided the boat and turned it on its side.
"He says he was in his cabin, he was fortunate. He was on the up-side. He could open his door," Murphy Ikegami said. "The guys on the other side were under water. They couldn't open their doors."
Ikegami "worked his way out" then found himself in the open sea, next to a round life raft that he grabbed. "He hung on," she said. Within four minutes, a second wave hit, flipping the boat over and sinking it.
The body of Leslie Yee was found washed up on a lonely beach, some 67 miles south of San Felipe.
The vessel rested on the sea floor, some 200 feet deep. Divers have been called in to search the cabins, but won't begin until the end of the week, said Escobedo Ortiz, the Mexican director of civil protection agency for the state of Baja California.
"Right now our priority is searching for people who might be alive either at sea or on the beaches or islands or local mountains surrounding the area," Ortiz said in a telephone interview from Mexico on Tuesday.
In the Bay Area, relatives of the missing couldn't stand the wait.
Don Lee's wife, May, is hoping someone will step forward with the private plane and fly her and other wives to San Felipe to somehow help with the search.
She is clinging to the hope that her husband of 35 years will be found alive.
"He's a fighter," she said from her San Ramon home. "Each day that passes that we don't find him, it gets harder and harder."
The 115-foot boat, operated by Baja Sportfishing and Diving, was a well-known boat in the area and had a clean safety record, Ortiz said. It set out on a clear day. The kind of quick and powerful storm that hit the boat is not unusual in the Sea of Cortez, he said, and like boats usually do, the Erik was trying to reach the shelter of a cove when it was hit by back-to-back waves.
Investigators are speculating that because "it was so hot," all the windows were open on the boat, "which made it easy for the water to come in" and swamp the boat, Ortiz said.
Baja Sportfishing Inc. lost its rights to operate in California in 2001 when it failed to file tax returns from 1996 to 2000, according to records at the Franchise Tax Board. It appears to be operating legally, however, with a valid license from San Diego listed under a slightly different name, Baja Sportfishing and Diving.
The company didn't respond to requests for comment, instead issuing a statement: "We are devastated by this horrible tragedy. Every effort is being made to assist the authorities in the search. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the families."
The fishing company also announced it has canceled all further trips because of the tragedy.
By Tuesday, some 37 people had been pulled out of the water; 27 people on the boat were American passengers, many from Northern California. The U.S. Coast Guard is assisting the Mexican Navy in search and rescue efforts.
Among the survivors was Charles Gibson, police chief with the Contra Costa Community College District in Northern California.
Those who remain missing are: Russ Bautista, Mark Dorland, Brian Wong, Shawn Craddock, Lee, Gene J. Leong and Al Mein.
(Bay Area News Group reporters Lisa Fernandez, Mark Gomez, and Matt Krupnick contributed to this report.)
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