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Adventurer Eulogized 10 Years After Being Lost in South Seas

November 06, 1988|TRACEY KAPLAN | Times Staff Writer

Marine biologist John Naughton Jr. was looking for green turtles in the Marshall Islands recently when he found something on a remote atoll that was believed to be lost forever.

It was the "Sarah Joe," a small fiberglass motorboat that disappeared nearly 10 years ago during a Hawaiian Islands storm with five men on board, including a 27-year-old former high school football star from Granada Hills. And wedged into a pile of stones near the battered boat was a driftwood cross and a partial set of teeth.

Beneath the rocks were the remains of Scott Moorman, the former Monroe High School running back who had moved to Maui from Granada Hills in the mid 1970s. The identification was made from dental and medical records after Naughton, of the National Marine Fisheries Service, recognized the 16 1/2-foot craft as the same one he helped search for in 1979, and contacted the U.S. Coast Guard.

Others Not Found

No trace of the other four men was found on the atoll, which is about 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii.

On Saturday, the Little Brown Church in Studio City was draped with garlands of flowers from Hawaii. About 100 people gathered there to eulogize Moorman, who was remembered as a talented athlete, musician and woodworker, and as a free spirit who realized his dream of living in the Pacific islands.

And across the ocean, on Maui, residents of the small town of Hana, where Moorman and the others lived, plan to bury the "Sarah Joe" and plant five fir trees on a peninsula in memory of the men who disappeared.

The discovery of Moorman's remains has reopened the question of what happened after the five set out on a daylong fishing expedition on Feb. 11, 1979.

"I used to worry so much when it rained that Scott was wet and cold," said his mother, Patricia Moorman, 62. "I'm relieved to know he's not lost in the ocean someplace, but I hurt so much for the other families."

The men--Moorman, Ralph Malaiakini, 27; Pat Woessner, 26; Benny Kalama, 38, and Peter Hanchett, 31--embarked on the trip to take advantage of a day of good weather after a period of squalls, said Jack Moorman, 61, Scott Moorman's father. But by afternoon the sky had darkened, and winds whipped the water into a flurry of whitecaps, according to weather reports.

Other boats scurried in when the weather worsened, but the "Sarah Joe" never returned, Jack Moorman said. A 5-day search by the U.S. Coast Guard proved fruitless, as did a monthlong search financed by friends and relatives of the missing men. Nothing more was learned until Naughton found the boat Sept. 9.

Medical examiners at the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii could not determine when Moorman died or the cause of his death, said Lt. Col. Tom Boyd, a spokesman for the lab.

But many of Moorman's relatives and friends believe he reached the island alive and swam to shore, only to die from lack of water. They are angry that the U.S. Coast Guard stopped searching for the missing men five days after they disappeared.

"Scott was a competitor, and I'm positive he battled for his life to the end," said Harry Frum, his former football coach.

An investigation has begun in the Republic of the Marshall Islands to find out who buried Moorman, said Scott Chun of Honolulu, a cousin of one of the missing men.

"All this is like the Twilight Zone," said Moorman's sister, Julie, 34. "We may never have any answers, but then again, we didn't ever really think we'd know this much."

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