Boat’s Disappearance Puzzles Searchers

THE search for a lost sport fishing boat and its cargo of five passengers, including a couple from the United States, is tapering, with not a sign found since the Kingfisher disappeared off the northern Pacific coast near Playa Flamingo two weeks ago. The disappearance of the boat, which was uncertified, has revealed flaws in the safety inspection procedures for boats throughout the country.Though the Coast Guard has patrolled the sea off the Costa Rican and Nicaraguan coasts around the clock, saying it has “not abandoned the search at any time,” two U.S. Hercules C-130 military planes that arrived to scan the water from above left last week, and perhaps dozens of private fishing vessels that had answered the call to assist have relinquished the search pending a clue to the Kingfisher’s whereabouts. “We have used all our resources,” Flamingo Coast Guard station director Manuel Silva told The Tico Times. “We have looked for these people like nothing else, like never before. I’m alarmed by the number of planes and boats involved in the search. It seems very strange that we haven’t found a single sign.” A sunken ship would have left a trace of oil on the water, or objects from it such as life jackets, bottles, cans and other items would have floated along the currents, according to Silva.“We would have found something sooner or later in the water or on the beaches,” he said, adding that even bodies without life jackets can stay afloat for days. Searchers have followed currents from the point eyewitnesses said the ship was last seen, extending their search to the shores of Nicaragua and enlisting the permission and aid of that country’s rescuers. Silva, however, began to doubt the ship went astray in the spot where witnesses last saw it, thinking it may have been caught on a current that flows toward Hawaii, or south along Costa Rica’s coast.Or, he said, the problem could be the vastness of the land, much of it still wild. “THERE are coasts that are very closed off; a body could have arrived there and nobody would see it. We aren’t looking on land, we’re looking in the sea. Other people, family members, are taking smaller boats into the coasts,” he said early this week. By Monday, it looked as if the Coast Guard’s 82-foot vessel was alone in the search.The passengers, captain Harold González, 27, his brother, shipmate Danilo González, 23, and Mallel Gómez Alanis, 16, all Costa Ricans, as well as U.S. citizens Mark Vockery, 42, and Laura McCloud, 41, set out on the Kingfisher, a 23-ft. deep-hull runabout, on the morning of July 29. The search began while stiff winds carved high waves that afternoon and the boat did not return that evening.The ship did not have its certification of seaworthiness from the Navigation and Safety Directorship of the Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT), Silva said. MOPT relies on the Coast Guard to ensure boats at sea are licensed (see separate story).VOCKERY and McCloud were married in 2004 at the Media Conchal resort in Playa Flamingo, and returned this year to celebrate a delayed honeymoon. Vockery, a safety consultant, has three children and McCloud, a nurse, has one, from previous marriages. The four are ages 10-15. Bill Vockery, Mark’s brother, arrived Aug. 2 to help search for his brother and sister-in-law, and left empty-handed Tuesday.“Any number of possible things might have happened, none of which we can prove or disprove until we talk to my brother and sister, or the boat captain. There’s been no finding of anything that would indicate the boat sank, but then again, there’s been no boat,” he told The Tico Times.Suspicions of criminal activity are not officially under consideration, and Silva largely discards the idea, saying there would have been some indication if the couple had been kidnapped, for example – but, he adds, anything is possible.BILL Vockery, who met the family of the captain, is convinced that a crime did not take place. “The three men on the boat are not in question, and somebody outside of those three finding the boat lucrative enough to capture is unlikely,” he said. Little headway has been made into discovering the origins of a series of false reports by radio that the boat had been found the day after it disappeared. Whether accidentally or on purpose, the callers duped the Coast Guard into returning to shore and the Public Security Ministry announced the end of the search. Then, when Silva tried to confirm the information, he said, he realized the boat was still missing, and the search resumed the following day.Carlos Vargas, owner of Aerodiva, a transport and search and rescue business, responded to the Coast Guard’s call to inspect the site where the mysterious caller claimed his ship had saved the passengers on the Kingfisher.“WE found nothing there – a storm, but no sign of boats,” Vargas said. “It had to be someone who is very unscrupulous, or there was some other operation going on (and the radio signals were crossed). We can’t discard that it was malicious,” he added. “It’s something you can’t understand… that a human being could be in danger and you could do that.”Jesús Ureña, a press officer at the ministry, issued a report that falsely announced the discovery of the boat based on the call, then later retracted it. He told The Tico Times his information came from the Coast Guard.“It wasn’t just us, it was some of the press and the family members of the passengers and fishermen looking for the boat who believed it had been found,” he told The Tico Times. “In the future we’ll wait to try to get eyewitness confirmation from the Coast Guard (or whoever is on the scene).”SILVA said the search effort was staggered by a dozen false reports, and he suspects at least some of them were intentionally misleading. In spite of the lack of even the smallest sign of the boat or its passengers, Bill Vockery believes they are alive.“Everyone maintains that hope and faith and we know that regardless of where they are, the Lord’s got his hands wrapped around them. We know that as a fact,” he said.