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Rescue Teams Search for 6 From Lost Boat

April 11, 1993|GARY GORMAN and TIMOTHY WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

VENTURA — U.S. Coast Guard rescue teams searched unsuccessfully Saturday for as many as six men believed to have been aboard a 41-foot shrimp boat that apparently sank near Santa Cruz Island late Friday, officials said.

Before suspending the search until daybreak today, the Coast Guard and National Park Service had dispatched helicopters, planes and boats in an effort to find survivors of the Vil Vana, which issued a distress call about 5:30 p.m. Friday, officials said.

Searchers found debris from the boat near Anacapa Island on Saturday morning, the Coast Guard said. The island, part of the Channel Islands National Park, is about 14 miles off the coast of Ventura.

A Coast Guard official said the boat's last known location--about 1 1/2 miles north of Santa Cruz Island--was in a major shipping lane, and he speculated that the boat may have been hit by a tanker or other ship.

The Vil Vana was owned by Sang Gyu Choi, 40, of Oxnard, who was aboard the vessel when it disappeared, according to Choi's business partner, Alan Kwong of Alhambra.

Also aboard, Kwong said, were the boat's captain, Dan Pelton, 33, who lives on a boat at Ventura Harbor; John Kim of Glendale, who works for Choi, and Kim's 17-year-old nephew, William Choi, who is not related to Sang Choi.

Several of Pelton's friends, who said they watched the boat leave early Friday, said two crewmen also were aboard: Donnie Watkins, 41, who also lived at the harbor on a houseboat, and another man identified only as Ben.

By 11 a.m. Saturday, searchers found debris from the boat--including a placard with the vessel's identification number--about three miles off the east coast of Anacapa Island, officials said.

"I would think that for a boat to have been shattered like this, it must have been run over in a collision," said Coast Guard Petty Officer Kelly Ream. "It's not unheard of for it to happen and the other ship not even to be aware that it happened."

Kwong said Sang Choi bought the boat in December and moved it from its berth at San Pedro to Ventura Harbor. Sang Choi, a 15-year resident of the United States, is a native of Korea, he said.

Kwong said Sang Choi took the boat out at 3 a.m. Friday for a fishing and diving excursion to Santa Cruz Island to entertain Kim and his nephew. He said Coast Guard officials told him that they found wet suits owned by Pelton, Kim and William Choi.

Choi's fiancee, who also lives in Oxnard, was supposed to go on the trip but had decided not to because she was tired, Kwong said.

Laurena Langlo, 24, who lives on a boat at Ventura Harbor across from the Vil Vana's berth, said she too had planned to go on the excursion. She said she spent Thursday night helping Pelton prepare shrimp nets but was also too tired to join the expedition when it left early Friday.

"It's weird," Langlo said Saturday. "I feel I was real close to death."

Like many harbor residents, Langlo said she had not given up hope that the men might be found. "They could have made it to the islands," she said. "They could be floating on a piece of wood."

Late Saturday, some of Pelton's friends flew out of Oxnard Airport in a private plane in hopes of spotting survivors. Joining them was a professional swordfish spotter experienced at scanning the ocean's waves.

Nicknamed "Dangerous Dan" from his days as a fearless surfer, Pelton is a native of the city of Santa Cruz, friends said. His brother, Tom Pelton, said family members in Santa Cruz planned to come to Ventura to see if they could assist in the search.

Watkins' father, Don Watkins Sr., said his son "is a strong swimmer. He's built like a 25-year-old."

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