The skipper of the Fish-n-Fool, which two weeks ago was capsized by a 20-foot wave that led to the deaths of 10 people, told passengers minutes before the boat was hit that the area where they were returning to anchor was being pounded by giant swells, one of two survivors of the incident testified Thursday.
Jim Sims told a four-member hearing panel of two Coast Guard and two National Transportation Safety Board officials that the fishing vessel was about a mile north of an outcropping known as Ben's Rock when skipper Gary LaMont shouted " 'My God, look at the (huge) swells on Ben's Rock'. . . Everybody stopped and looked. We could clearly see the white water."
At that point, Sims, 29, told the panel, he was unconcerned and went to the galley for lunch. But 20 minutes later he went outside and the boat was next to the rock.
"I couldn't believe we were right next to the rock," he said.
Hit by Giant Wave
Sims testified that the 57-foot boat, on a fishing trip out of San Diego, was facing away from the rock when a giant wave slammed into the vessel, capsizing it.
During a recess, Lt. J. Michael McCoy, a panelist, said that despite the giant swells, a skipper still has "a lot of discretion" in deciding whether to take a boat into dangerous areas.
Sims later told reporters that he would not have gone to Ben's Rock had he known about the huge waves. "But who are you going to blame?" he added.
After the boat capsized, passengers and crew began to look for debris to hang onto, Sims said. The next few hours were filled with horror, Sims testified, describing the futile efforts by fellow passengers to swim to nearby San Martin Island, which is about 150 miles south of San Diego.
Recalls Two Passengers
He remembered two passengers, Rusty Paxton of Riverside, and Timothy York, 25, of Huntington Beach.
"Rusty told me to tell his wife that he loved her, and then I heard him thrashing in the water," Sims said. "I could hear (York) thrashing in the water. I could hear him yell that he was too young to die and 'I don't want to die.' "
Crew member Cathy Compton, the other survivor, will also testify in the hearing, which continues today.