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2 Bodies Found After Boat Sinks Off O.C. Coast


NEWPORT BEACH — Coast Guard searchers Tuesday morning recovered the bodies of two men amid debris from a boat that apparently sank along a busy shipping corridor about 10 miles off Newport Beach.

The search for other possible victims and remains of the vessel continued till dusk, as Coast Guard vessels scoured 450 square miles of ocean surrounding the point where the bodies were found. The search was discontinued because of darkness.

Family members identified one of the dead as Khanh Nguyen, 50, of Alhambra, but the other man had not been identified late Tuesday afternoon, according to Scott Carrier, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner's office.

Carrier said relatives told investigators that Nguyen and a friend set out on a fishing trip late Monday night. He said the relatives did not know the friend's name or where the boat had been docked. The family became worried when Nguyen had not returned by Tuesday morning, and called authorities after hearing reports that the bodies had been found.

Neither man was wearing a life jacket. However, one was found clutching a life preserver and the other was holding onto a boat fender--a plastic barrel hung over the side of a boat to cushion it while at a dock, according to Coast Guard spokeswoman Liz Brannan.

Authorities received no distress calls overnight and did not know what happened to the two men or their boat. Coast Guard radio reports indicated that rescuers found nets registered to a commercial fishing boat, but officials said the gear had not been linked to the men.

"We have no evidence right now that any of the debris belonged to any particular boat," said Coast Guard spokeswoman Brandy Ian. "We have debris and we have two bodies."

Brannan said a private boater bound from Newport Beach to Avalon reported seeing one of the bodies shortly before 7 a.m. She said a Coast Guard cutter recovered the second body about two hours later amid a floating trail of ice chests, line, a tarp and other debris.

By late afternoon, the Coast Guard had searched 450 square miles off the coast, using two helicopters, an airplane and two boats as commercial fishermen swarmed the area.

Lt. Jeffrey C. Jackson, commanding officer of one of the Coast Guard boats, said searchers found most of the debris between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Among items found were a man's blue work jacket, a baseball cap, a bait cutting board, and a white drum that carries bait, which Jackson said leads authorities to believe the boat was a commercial fishing vessel.

"There are a number of different possibilities that could have led to this incident," Jackson said. "You can't even start to guess."

"This case is unusual," Jackson added. "The mystery of it all is that usually people have a chance to get at least one radio call in."

The area where the bodies were found is traveled regularly by freighters and tankers.

"It makes you instantly speculate it could possibly be a collision," said Steve Allison, spokesman for the Vessel Assist Assn. of America, a boat-towing company based in Costa Mesa.

Because of the traffic, Jackson said, those who travel the area should be experienced.

"It's one of the busiest ports in the world and it's an area that you should have some experience in it before you go out at night. You should be aware of the dangers of shipping."

The Coast Guard completed its daylong search about 7:15 p.m.

One 82-foot Coast Guard vessel and one auxiliary vessel remained until the search was called off.

Throughout the day, the search team monitored the currents using a device that was placed in the water near what was believed to be the area of the wreck. The device monitors the currents throughout the day so that search vessels can follow the likely pathway of wreckage.

During its height, the search team consisted of a helicopter, an airplane and four boats from Long Beach, Newport Beach and San Pedro.

Coast Guard Lt. Mark Frankford said authorities were evaluating the debris found Tuesday and had not yet decided whether to resume the search today.

"The searches were very extensive," Frankford said. "The area was thoroughly saturated by search units under excellent searching conditions, which included calm seas and good visibility. That makes it easy to find objects in the water."


Times staff writer Greg Hernandez contributed to this report.

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