Search still on for two men and boat

Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2008

With no results after four days of good search weather, the U.S. Coast Guard continues to look today for the two men aboard the missing pleasure boat Transition.

Courtesy Of The U.s. Coast Guard
Courtesy Of The U.s. Coast Guard

"We hold out hope," Cmdr. Scott Lemasters said.

Ketchikan resident Mike Dunn reportedly flew to Juneau to pilot the boat home. He and Vern McGee, who lives on a boat in Auke Bay, left Juneau for Ketchikan on Wednesday aboard Dunn's 35-foot wooden boat and have not been seen since.

Coast Guard authorities Tuesday characterized Dunn as a "novice" mariner, who recently purchased the Transition. His exact level of marine experience and knowledge of Southeast Alaska waters is unknown, Lt. Chris Williammee said.

After searching 8,826 nautical miles of the Inside Passage, including inlets and shoreline from Auke Bay to Ketchikan and back, the Coast Guard reports no sign of the Transition and no evidence of what might have happened to the two-man crew.

Searchers believe the Transition's engine might have a malfunctioning piston.

Lemasters said Dunn's last credit card activity was a fuel purchase in Juneau.

The National Weather Service posted a small-craft advisory with 5-foot seas and 25-knot winds for Stephens Passage the day Dunn and McGee left Juneau.

What survival gear might be on board the Transition is largely unknown. The Coast Guard said lifejackets are on board, but they don't know if the men have insulated floatation suits or a personal locator beacon.

"Nothing indicates they do," Lemasters said.

In the cold waters hypothermia sets in fast, but if a person could make it to shore and build a fire, the chances of survival skyrocket, he said.

The exact relationship between McGee and Dunn is unclear, but officials said Dunn was looking for help to take the Transition home. McGee's boat, the Bandit, was moored next to the Transition in Auke Bay.

The search began Saturday after Dunn's wife called authorities. Coast Guard helicopters and boats, Air National Guard planes and the Civil Air Patrol have done linear and grid searches of suspected routes in Stephens Passage, Chatham Strait, Frederick Sound and Wrangell Narrows.

Lemasters estimates that 40 boat operators along the passage were interviewed and none saw the Transition. He said several boats were off Cape Fanshaw, near the Five Fingers Lighthouse, working the tanner crab harvest and should have seen Dunn's boat pass by if it had, but did not. The crab boats were there the whole time, he said.

Searchers have checked harbors and fuel stops along the way.

The search first focused on the water and then switched to check shorelines after no floating debris was found.

How long the search continues without new clues depends on the Coast Guard's needs for equipment elsewhere, Lemasters said.

• Contact reporter Greg Skinner at 523-2258 or greg.skinner@juneauempire.org.



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