Grim news in boat search

Search crews blanketing the North Sound Monday managed to locate a 26-foot canoe that had not returned from a fishing trip the day before.

Search crews return

Volunteer searchers return to the Newlands dock Monday after a long and frustrating trip. Photo: Brent Fuller

But the circumstances the small craft was found in were not good, and none of the five passengers who were on board had been found by nightfall Monday.

‘Bad, bad, bad. I was hoping to find something but didn’t find nothing at all.’ said Gordon McLaughlin, one of the many volunteers who assisted police and marine unit patrols with Monday’s searches. Gordon’s cousin was one of the five boat passengers.

Police began searching for the craft Sunday around 10.15pm, shortly after being contacted by family members and friends of the missing boaters.

Those on board included 36-year-old Raynel Wood, his 13-year-old daughter Michelle, 28-year-old Josh Gilman, 36-year-old Astor Range and 19-year-old Jeamie Avila.

Family members console each other

Family and friends of the five boaters console each other Monday in Newlands. Photo: Brent Fuller

“I know pretty much everybody who’s on the boat,” Susanne Bodden, a family friend said Monday. “They were planning to circle around the whole island (referring to Grand Cayman) and be back by 7pm (Sunday).”

According to police, the white and blue coloured canoe left from the Newlands dock just off Leeward Drive in the Rackley’s area around 7am Sunday. The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service received a missing persons report at around 10.15pm Sunday.

By mid-morning Monday dozens of relatives and friends had gathered in the parking lot of the Newlands dock area. Police boats were out searching the North Sound, which is where the Newlands dock juts into along the southern coast of the sound.

Weather conditions remained extremely choppy Monday and were said to be quite rough Sunday when the five set out. A stiff northerly breeze whipped up the surf and made for cooler than normal temperatures on the water.

‘It’s very rough and very cold out there and also very murky,’ said Charles Gilman, the brother of Josh Gilman who had gone out on one of the search boats Monday morning.

Mitchum Prendergast, a cousin of Mr. Range’s, said the group intended to do some fishing while they were out Sunday. He said the boat had just been fitted out with a new engine and that Mr. Range wanted to test it out.

“We haven’t heard from them since,” Mr. Prendergast said Monday morning.

In the late morning, one marine search crew that headed back to the Newlands dock gave a black sandal they found in the water to family members. Phone calls were immediately made to determine if it might have been one of the missing men’s sandals, but nothing could be immediately determined.

A nearly full fuel tank was located in the Patrick’s Island of the North Sound area shortly afterward. It was believed to have come from the canoe.

At around 3pm Monday, marine unit radios reported a sighting of the canoe outside the barrier reef near the Rum Point Channel area.

‘The helicopter found the hull drifting, capsized, outside the reef between Stingray City and the Rum Point Channel,’ said LIME Executive Ian Tibbetts, also one of the volunteer searchers. ‘It had washed over the reef and the anchor had hooked onto the reef.’

Mr. McLaughlin said the boat’s covering and a cooler were found in the area. He said there was no sign of any passengers.

The five people’s whereabouts remained unknown Monday night.

The canoe was brought back into Harbour House Marina by police. Meanwhile, hundreds of family members and friends had gathered at the Newlands boat dock. Groups of people surrounded each other in tight circles exchanging hugs. Some wept openly when they learned that the small craft had been found with no one on it.