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Search Goes On for Fishermen

Coast Guard checks on report of a sinking boat near Oxnard while a woman awaits news on her husband and son.

April 23, 2003|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

When Lesley Stone's husband and son left for one of their frequent fishing trips last Friday evening, they told her not to worry if they were a little late getting back.

Five days later, with news that their submerged boat may have been seen in the waters near Channel Islands Harbor over the weekend, the La Conchita woman realized she might never again see her only son and husband of 32 years.

"It's very hard of course," said Stone, as she sat in her living room Tuesday afternoon, holding back tears.

"I'm still hoping that maybe someone will find something in the water and somebody will see them."

Since Sunday, when Stone called the Coast Guard to report the two missing, officials have been searching the waters where Randy Stone, 53, and his son Ben, 25, disappeared.

Helicopters and patrol boats were dispatched to search the areas between Ventura and the Channel Islands.

But there is still no indication of what happened to the two men, Coast Guard spokesman Dan Tremper said.

Stone's husband, a safety specialist at Southern California Edison, and her son, a commercial fisherman, are experienced boaters and surfers, she said. But that did not keep her from worrying.

They had warned her about possible communication problems. They told her they would not have radio reception on the other side of the islands and not to panic if they didn't return on time.

"My son would always try to get around the end of the island [to call] because he knows I worry," Stone said. "Both of them always call."

But when she still had not heard from them by Easter Sunday, Stone called the Coast Guard.

A small-craft advisory was issued on Friday, according to one Coast Guard official. But it is not unusual for fishermen and sailboats to go out under such conditions, he said.

Since Sunday, Stone's life has been consumed by fear, anxiety and even false hope. A report Monday that two people found alive in the waters near Santa Barbara proved to be a false alarm.

On Tuesday, Stone was still wrestling with the latest news: A submerged boat was spotted by the Coast Guard on Saturday. Initially, the boat was thought to be an abandoned vessel, but now officials say it might have been her husband's 24-foot boat.

The registration numbers, according to what officials told Stone, seemed to match and she was told the search would probably be called off soon.

Still, she won't accept their deaths until tangible evidence is found. "We don't know that yet," she said, sobbing.

"I need some evidence that that's what happened to them. They've got to find something. They have to."

According to Tremper, a boat was seen Saturday about 12 miles off Channel Islands Harbor. The sighting was made before the missing persons report was filed. The boat was submerged, but its bow was partly visible, he said.

"It didn't appear that it had recently sunk," Tremper said, noting there was no debris or oil near the vessel. "It's not uncommon to see" abandoned boats, he said.

The Coast Guard has not seen the boat since their its search began on Sunday, Tremper said. The Coast Guard is still investigating whether the submerged boat is Stone's vessel. He would not say when officials would call off the search.

Leslie Stone said she can't imagine what occurred, but she knows her son and husband are experienced enough to handle an emergency. Others who know them feel the same way, she said.

"All the commercial fishermen said that something catastrophic had to have happened," Stone said.

"Whatever it was, it must have happened really fast."

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