COZUMEL, Mexico — The grueling sea odyssey of Newport Beach yachtsman Scott McClung ended Friday when a federal judge freed the ailing mariner, five weeks after he was arrested for having guns aboard his vessel.
Looking drawn, McClung, 36, embraced his father, girlfriend and attorney after he was informed that Judge Alfredo Torres--who deliberated 28 hours over three days--had dropped weapons charges that could have meant a five- to 30-year prison sentence.
"I'm just so happy that this whole thing is now behind me and I can get started with my life again," said McClung, who thanked "everyone who's been keeping me in prayer."
Subdued joy and smiles greeted the long-awaited word, which finally came via attorney William Bollard of Irvine.
A few hours later, Miguel Angel Sosa, a consultant for the U.S. Consulate in Merida on the Yucatan Peninsula, visited McClung in his hospital room--where he has been kept under guard and treated for a stress-related illness--and solemnly read the judge's order.
"I'm definitely ready to get back on the ocean and get the ship back home," said Scott McClung, who plans to fly to Costa Rica to meet his ship. "I believe I'm physically and emotionally ready to do this. "
McClung, his 71-year-old father and the ship's first mate, Noah Bailey of Dana Point, were arrested in Cozumel, a resort city of 50,000 people, Aug. 10. They were charged with violating Mexico's weapons laws when officials found two AR-15 semiautomatic rifles and three shotguns aboard the $4.5-million boat, the Rapture. Other crew members were not taken into custody.
McClung said the yacht was armed because U.S. Coast Guard officials in Florida, where the boat began its journey, had warned him to beware of Caribbean pirates who strike private vessels.
The Newport Beach-bound Rapture pulled into Cozumel with a mechanical problem. Authorities arrested the men when the guns were discovered, although the McClungs have insisted that they declared the firearms when they entered port.
The elder McClung and Bailey were later released. Quiet, sustained diplomacy continued in an effort to free Scott McClung, who spent the last four weeks of captivity in the small and spare hospital room.
Scott McClung's release was finally won after a chaotic day of behind-the-scenes actions involving Mexican and U.S. attorneys, several Cozumel law enforcement agencies and a federal court in Cancun, where McClung's case was resolved.
Times staff writers Robert Ourlian and Esther Schrader contributed to this story.