Coast Guard ends search for mariners

Posted: Sunday, March 02, 2008

The U.S. Coast Guard said Friday morning it had suspended its search for two mariners who were reported missing on Feb. 22. The agency and one of the missing men's brother said they assumed the men were dead.

Michael Dunne of Ketchikan and Vern McGee of Juneau left town on Feb. 20. The duo were reportedly taking Dunne's boat, a 35-foot wooden boat called the Transition, to Ketchikan. The Coast Guard began searching for them three days later, after family hadn't heard from the men.

On Wednesday, a door from the boat was found in Frederick Sound on Kupreanof Island, the Coast Guard said.

Todd Buck, an operational unit controller with the Coast Guard, said there had been about 40 searches involving several different types of boats and aircraft that covered 6,700 square miles looking for the missing men and the boat. He said the agency had decided to suspend the search because it found nothing but the door and had "exhausted all possible scenarios" for finding the men.

Buck said the men had not filed a "float plan" detailing their trip in advance, and it was unknown whether they had emergency survival gear and rescue equipment with them on the boat.

Buck added that the Coast Guard had no official theories as to what led to the men's disappearance. He said crews on other boats had reported high winds near Juneau around the time the Transition left town.

Vern McGee's younger brother, Allen, said Saturday that it was difficult not knowing exactly what happened to his brother and Dunne. He said he speculates the boat sunk due to weather problems, but added that there was no way of knowing for sure where and why the boat disappeared.

"It's really kind of anyone's guess," Allen McGee said, adding that he'd also heard the boat had a problem with one of its pistons.

He said Dunne and his brother might have been "foolish" to have tried to make the journey when there were high winds and in the middle of winter. He added that he was pleased with how thorough the rescue efforts had been.

"It would be cool if there was a cool little miracle and they showed up on the beach somewhere, but I would say the likelihood of that happening is quite small," McGee said.

Dunne's wife, Victoria, could not be reached for comment Saturday. But in a Wednesday e-mail message, Dunne said her husband had grown up in Metlakatla, was a former Marine and had experience living off the seas and the beaches of Southeast Alaska.

Allen McGee said his brother was born and raised in Juneau, had served in the Army and had been working on fishing boats on and off for most of his life.

He said his brother had worked several jobs, and most recently was working on marine electronics equipment.

Vern McGee leaves behind four children, ages 10 years old to mid-20s, Allen McGee said.

He said Vern McGee will be remembered for his generous spirit.

"He was a real happy-go-lucky guy," Allen McGee said. "He would pretty much do anything for anyone."

• Contact reporterAlan Suderman at 523-2268 or alan.suderman@juneauempire.com.



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