Romaine Maiefski, James Swanson and Everett Richard Price were old college buddies who used any excuse to slip away for a day of hunting or fishing.
On Thursday, the San Diego-area trio headed up to Big Bear Lake to fish, as they had many times before, said Emily Perry, Maiefski's mother-in-law.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday April 27, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 62 words Type of Material: Correction
Big Bear drownings: An article in Saturday's California section about three fishermen who drowned after their boat capsized in Big Bear Lake incorrectly stated that Romaine Maiefski, James Swanson and Everett Richard Price had attended the University of Nebraska. They did not attend the university. Swanson and Price served together in the Navy and were neighbors. Price and Maiefski had worked together.
But a quick-moving storm moved in and their 15-foot aluminum boat capsized, tossing them into the frigid water sometime in the middle of the night. The bodies of Maiefski, 70, of Oceanside, and Swanson, 73, and Price, 76, both of Escondido, were recovered Friday morning.
"Romaine was just a wonderful man," said Perry. She said the three had gone to school together at the University of Nebraska. "He was my son-in-law, and I can't say enough about him. He was kind and generous and loving to a fault to his family and friends."
Maiefski was an inventor and had recently co-patented a liquefied gas pump assembly, according to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Price was a board member for an Escondido machine company now run by his two sons. Swanson lived next door to Price.
The men were perhaps lulled into believing conditions were safe because of serene weather when they arrived in the late afternoon and were later blindsided by the storm, said San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Tiffany Swantek. They didn't leave for their fishing trip until about 11 p.m., officials said.
"It's a definite possibility," Swantek said. "During the day, it was cold, but it was a nice, crisp, spring day. Then the storm came in last night and through the early hours of morning."
The storm brought strong winds and snow to Big Bear Lake, popular with tourists for fishing, water-skiing and boating.
A lakeside resident reported the capsized boat at 6 a.m., said Arden Wiltshire, a San Bernardino County sheriff's spokeswoman.
Deputies and members of the Big Bear Municipal Water District Lake Patrol originally thought the boat was unoccupied and had been blown into the water by shifting winds. But when they approached the boat, they found three fishing lines with trout still on hooks.
One body was found about 50 feet from the boat near Fawnskin on the north side of the lake at 8:30 a.m. The other two were found about a quarter-mile away thirty minutes later, Swantek said.
The lake temperature was 49 degrees. "It's not freezing, but it is cold," Swantek said. "Most times, death is a result of drowning because hypothermia sets in and shuts your body down."
Swantek said alcohol was probably not involved because the men's possessions, including a cooler that contained only bait, washed onto shore throughout the day.
The lake is home to bluegill, trout, bass and carp, and fishing is one of its main attractions.
However, Alan Sharp, owner of a lakefront boat rental shop, said it was unusual for anglers to be out in the day this time of year, let alone at night.
He said he rented only one boat Thursday, to a couple who returned a short while later saying that it was too cold to be out on the lake.
"Later in the year when the water warms up, people sometimes go out for catfish at night," said Sharp, who runs the Big Bear Marina. "It's unusual behavior for anybody to go out there at night now, especially when it's cold.
"When you live here, you can pick another weekend if bad weather doesn't allow you to fish," he said. "If you are from another area and the weather turns bad, you may decide that this is your time off from work and decide to do it anyway."
Stan Dolinski, 60, of Upland drove up to the mountain and cast a line from shore on Friday. A friend called and mentioned the deaths as Dolinski traveled to Big Bear Lake.
"I've heard of deaths happening out in the open ocean, but not somewhere around here," he said, gesturing to the lake that by afternoon was again placid.