Massive search successful as Coast Guard rescues two from disabled sailboat 50 miles south of Lanai

HONOLULU — Two sailors were hoisted to safety by a U.S. Coast Guard HH-65 rescue helicopter crew at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday after they had been reported missing for nearly two days.

The owner of the 21-foot sailing vessel J Bird called the Coast Guard at 1:20 a.m. today to say he thought two sailors hired to sail his vessel from Keehi Lagoon on Oahu to Hilo on the Big Island may be in trouble. The mother of one of the sailors had reported to the Coast Guard earlier Monday that the two had not made contact for some time.

The Coast Guard coordinated a massive joint-agency search with the Hawaii Fire and Police Departments on the Big Island and the state of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). Hawaii County officials conducted exhaustive shoreline searches and DLNR agents inspected marinas on all islands in search of the vessel today.

From its 24-hour Honolulu Harbor command center, the Coast Guard established search patterns for a Coast Guard C-130 search plane crew and HH-65 crew from Air Station Barbers Point. Search patterns were also developed for the crew of a P-3 Orion search plane from the U.S. Navy’s HSL Squadron 37, based at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe.

The air crews scoured the coastlines of Lanai, Maui, Kahoolawe and much of the Big Island on a search that covered more than 10,000 square miles — an area larger than the Big Island. The crew of the C-130 spotted the disabled sailboat 50 miles south of Lanai at approximately 6:45 p.m. on the last legs of a search pattern before they were due to return to Oahu to refuel.

The sailors fired off a flare to alert the C-130 crew.

The C-130 crew remained on scene until the helicopter crew could arrive, and at 7:15 p.m., both sailors were safely hoisted. At the time, rescuers reported strong winds from the northeast pushing the vessel southwest and farther from Lanai.

“When we arrived on scene the two sails masts were in the water and the boat was swaying violently in the water,” said Lt. j.g. Jason Gross, an HH-65 rescue helicopter pilot.

“After we lowered a rescue swimmer onto the vessel, we determined the best course of action would be to have the two men swim away from the boat and then we lowered a basket into the water and hoisted them from there.”

“This one could have turned out much differently,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Soule, a search and rescue planner with Coast Guard Sector Honolulu. “We received tremendous cooperation from the DLNR, Navy and Hawaii County officials and were able to cover a huge area and those two guys were fortunate.”

Both sailors were flown back to Air Station Barbers Point on Oahu and got rides home from air crew members who were finished working for the evening.

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