Search suspended for 4 missing fishermen off coast

SEATTLE — The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search Sunday for four men missing from a fishing trawler off the Washington coast, saying it’s unlikely the men are still alive.

Rescue crews had searched through the night after an early Saturday distress signal from the 70-foot Lady Cecelia led them to a debris field, an empty lifeboat and an oil sheen several miles off the coast.

By Sunday morning, crews in Coast Guard cutters and an MH-60 helicopter had covered 640 square miles, Petty Officer Shawn Eggert said.

“We have searched far beyond what the capacity of somebody to survive in these conditions might be,” he said.

Coast Guard officials are unsure what happened to the Lady Cecelia. Eggert said he had no details on the debris found off the coast, or whether the vessel was still intact.

The lifeboat found by rescuers had no identifying marks, but Eggert said it’s “extremely likely” the raft was from the Lady Cecelia since no other boats in the area reported losing such a craft.

He also noted that contrary to previous reports, the life raft was fully inflated and in usable condition.

The Coast Guard identified the four missing men as 42-year-old Dave Nichols and 38-year-old Jason Bjaranson of Warrenton, Ore.; 25-year-old Chris Langel of Kaukauna, Wis.; and 22-year-old Luke Jensen of Ilwaco, Wash.

The fishing vessel has a home port in Warrenton, Ore., and is registered to Dale Kent of Bay City, Ore.

Kent, who is 80 years old and deaf, could not immediately provide a statement to The Associated Press on Sunday. But his grandson Caleb McKinney said Kent had fished on the vessel for 21 years.

“He was close to the captain and most of the crew,” McKinney said.

Langel was onboard as an observer to monitor the vessel’s catch. He was employed by Saltwater Inc., which is based in Anchorage, Alaska, but also has an office in Seattle.

The Lady Cecelia was first registered in Oregon in 1991.

Overnight weather off the southern Washington coast consisted of a slowly moving front that created moderate waves but not stormy conditions.

A buoy located 20 nautical miles off the Washington coast recorded water temperatures of 43 degrees at 4 a.m. Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard said one of its helicopters brought four people to safety after their commercial vessel went aground near Newport, Ore. The vessel was reported aground on the south jetty at Yaquina Bay at about 5 p.m. Saturday.

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