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Lawmakers' brother is missing

Coast Guard suspends its search for Henry Sanchez, whose sisters are congresswomen, and his girlfriend.

October 04, 2008|Francisco Vara-Orta | Times Staff Writer

The U.S. Coast Guard on Friday suspended its two-day search off the San Pedro coast for two missing boaters, one of whom is the brother of U.S. Reps. Loretta and Linda T. Sanchez of California.

The search, which began Thursday morning, covered more than 300 square miles south of the entrance to the Port of Los Angeles before being called off Friday afternoon with neither boater found, said Coast Guard Capt. Paul Wiedenhoeft.

"The hearts and prayers of the Coast Guard go out to the families of those involved," said Wiedenhoeft, commander of the Guard's Los Angeles-Long Beach sector.

The Sanchez sisters said in a statement that their brother Henry Sanchez, 51, and his girlfriend, Penny Avila, 48, are the two missing boaters. They said that a debris field found off the coast contained fragments of the boat.

Wiedenhoeft said debris included a California vessel number that matches the vessel.

"Our family is thankful of the search and rescue efforts by the U.S. Coast Guard and other local agencies," said Loretta (D-Santa Ana) and Linda (D-Lakewood) Sanchez. "We pray and hope that Henry and Penny are found alive and well."

Henry Sanchez and Avila, both of Santa Ana, left Alamitos Bay near Long Beach late Wednesday night en route to Santa Catalina Island but never arrived, said Ensign Stephanie Young of the Coast Guard station in San Pedro.

The boat debris was found by a passing boater about five miles south of the Los Angeles harbor entrance at 7:30 a.m. Thursday, Young said.

Over the last two days, two Coast Guard boats and a helicopter searched for the pair and the 28-foot Bayliner, Young said.

"The Coast Guard suspects the missing vessel was involved in a collision" with a barge in tow in the vicinity of the debris field, Young said. "Investigators have identified fiberglass debris on the barge that has been visually matched to fiberglass debris recovered from the water by responders."

The various pieces of debris were taken to the Coast Guard base in San Pedro.

Clear weather Friday allowed for good search conditions compared with Thursday's dense fog, Young said. A safety zone of about 500 yards was established around the area while search and recovery operations were conducted, she said.

Although the search for the couple has been suspended, if any new information becomes available, the effort may resume, Wiedenhoeft said. The Coast Guard said other government agencies are conducting sonar searches of the ocean floor to assist with the search.

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francisco.varaorta@latimes.com

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