Tragedy at Sea: Kayak Capsizes off the Coast of San Pedro
There was a dramatic rescue on the high seas by the Belize Coastguard of one of three persons who set out to fish on Monday. A second person was rescued by a fisherman near Tres Cocos in San Pedro. A third person, however, has not been located and it is presumed that he drowned. Earlier in the day, the trio went to sea to fish but their small boat soon capsized near the reef and strong currents caused them to drift. Fortunately, both Jamal Martinez and Joseph Hernandez were rescued but tonight Eric Garcia has not been located and his family has set out on an independent search. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
A day of snorkeling and spear fishing off the coast of San Pedro has resulted in tragedy for a trio of friends. On Monday morning, the group set out to sea in a small canoe, paddling towards the nearby reef. While twenty-one-year-old Eric Garcia remained inside the kayak, colleagues Jamal Martinez and Joseph Hernandez both plunged into the choppy waters. Moments later, upon attempting to re-enter the vessel, it suddenly overturned.
Horace Lawrence, Uncle of Missing Person
“They went fishing yesterday in the morning and about 11:30, on a kayak, they capsized. I understand two of the guys they jumped out of the kayak to go, I think spear [fishing], and when they tried to get back into the kayak that’s when the kayak flipped with my nephew that was in there and then they started to drift because they were ina deep area.”
A distress call to local authorities on the island would later summon the Belize National Coast Guard to the vicinity.
David Ayala, Patrol Commander, San Pedro Coastguard
“Yesterday at approximately 1300 hours, we received a call from the San Pedro police indicating of a flipped canoe in the area of Tres Cocos, in front of Tres Cocos. Immediately the search and rescue team departed our location, our San Pedro FOB and made our way to Tres Cocos.”
By that time however, strong currents in the open channel had set the men adrift in separate directions beyond the reef. The high swells would prove rather difficult for coastguard personnel to quickly locate the missing trio.
“Upon reaching we commenced search efforts but unfortunately nothing was found in the immediate area that we were directed to, after which we started combing along the reef and, like forty-five minutes later we came in contact with a small vessel, a small skiff that was in the area and they gave us directions that one person had been recovered.”
That individual was twenty-five-year-old Jamal Martinez, seen here wearing the red cap.
“There was a fisherman’s boat nearby and one of them that was by the reef, the one that was by the reef shouted. Somehow the fisherman heard him and came and rescued him but he couldn’t go out through the channel to try to help rescue the other two and they called for the coastguard for about, they say it took about an hour and a half before they got there.”
Despite what some argue was delayed response, when the search and rescue team happened upon Hernandez he was found clinging desperately onto a buoy.
“He was grabbing a buoy outside the reef and we immediately recovered him and placed him onboard our vessel. He gave us directions that another person was along with him but unfortunately he was unable to swim along with him to hold onto the buoy. So, minutes later he was out of the scene. There was nowhere that he was seen at the time.”
By all accounts, Garcia, known to most as Bird, was not a strong swimmer. His uncle Horace Lawrence told News Five today that the twenty-one-year-old may have suffered fatigue and subsequently went under.
“He was too tired to make it. He wasn’t a good swimmer anyway and, you know, he was asking them for help and they tried to tell him, “Hold on, swim on your back.” And they didn’t want to get too close to him they say because they were afraid that he was going to sink them down.”
Family and friends believe that he has since drowned in the ultramarine depths and are now leading independent search teams to recover his body.
“We came out early this morning like from six o’clock, about six of us went on the boat and we started combing the reef and we have about three divers, you know, snorkelers in the water snorkeling in the coral while some of us on top of the boat were looking down into the water.”
The coastguard is also on active duty in the hunt for the missing youth.
“We have been searching along the reef and outside the reef but so far we have not been able to get no signs of the person that has been missing.”
While two of the three men were successfully rescued, regrettably none of them were wearing life vests or other floatation devices.
Isani Cayetano reporting for News Five.