1 rescued, search on for 2 others after fishing boat sinks off New Jersey coast

By Bruce Shipkowski, AP
Thursday, December 24, 2009

1 rescued, 2 sought after fish boat sinks off NJ

TOMS RIVER, N.J. — Coast Guard crews searched the frigid Atlantic Ocean on Thursday for two Virginia men missing after a fishing boat was hit by a large wave and sank off southern New Jersey.

A surviving crew member from New Jersey was found in a life raft shortly after officials received a distress signal from the 38-foot Alisha Marie around 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Robert Mark Cooper, of Point Pleasant, was conscious and responsive when found and told rescuers he was the only one to get into the raft, Coast Guard Petty Officer Crystalynn Kneen said.

The boat was about 25 miles east of Barnegat Light, N.J., and went down after it was hit by a large wave “that caused it to roll,” Cooper said.

Still missing were William Brown Jr. and Joseph Bell, both of Newport News, Va. Crews will continue to search for the pair “until it’s determined there is no chance for survival,” Kneen said.

Officials determine that by considering such factors as water temperature, weather and the health of the missing. Waves were 6 feet when the boat sank, officials said, winds were about 30 mph and the water temperatures was around 40 degrees.

Watchstanders contacted the owner of the Point Pleasant Beach-based boat after the Coast Guard received the distress signal, and they confirmed survival suits, flares and a life raft were aboard. A helicopter from Air Station Atlantic City soon found the raft and took Cooper to safety.

He was taken to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City and was being treated for undisclosed injuries.

It has been a tough year in New Jersey for the commercial fishing industry. Nine commercial fishermen operating out of Cape May have died at sea so far in 2009.

Three people died last month when the Sea Tractor sank off Cape May, and the owner’s body was found when it washed ashore at a North Carolina wildlife refuge. And the Lady Mary — another North Carolina-based boat that operated out of Cape May — sank in March, killing six of the seven crew members on board.

A joint Coast Guard-National Transportation Safety Board investigation is trying to determine the cause of the latter accident. The boat owner, Royal Smith Sr., who lost two sons and a brother in the disaster, believes the Lady Mary was struck by another vessel that then left the area.

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