The 57-foot scalloper Leonardo was reportedly out for a day trip off the coast of Massachusetts when it capsized and sank with four crew onboard on Sunday, Nov. 24. Conditions at the time of the sinking included 29-knot winds gusting to 39 knots with 9-foot waves.
The Coast Guard’s 1st District reported that rescue crews from Air Station Cape Cod had recovered one fisherman, identified as Ernie Garcia (video below), from a life raft and searched more than 24 hours for the remaining three in the area of the sinking, 24 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard.
“The other three fishermen are presumed lost,” Luis Martins, owner of the F/V Leonardo, told the Standard-Times on Monday morning. “That’s all I can say.”
Garcia reported that the boat was overtaken by a rogue wave that washed over the deck and flooded the boat. Skipper Gerald Bretal and his 24-year-old son Xavier Vega were reportedly trapped in the wheelhouse by the wave. Garcia said 35-year-old Mark Cormier was swimming behind him toward the life raft, but he lost sight of him in the darkness and turbulent seas.
The Coast Guard received an EPIRB alert at 3:18 p.m. on Sunday and dispatched a Jayhawk helicopter crew and rescue swimmer, which came to Garcia’s aid just before 5 p.m. That helicopter crew continued search and rescue operations until 11 p.m. on Sunday and resumed its search on Monday morning. Meanwhile, an Ocean Sentry aircraft crew joined the 87-foot cutter Cobia and 270-foot cutter Escanaba, which searched through the night and continued on that mission into Monday. The search was called off on Monday evening.
The Leonardo is based in New Bedford, Mass. Petty Officer Ryan Noel reported that none of the fishing crew was wearing a survival suit. Martins was the co-owner of Lou-Joe’s Fresh Seafood, which was raided by federal agents in 2017.