Families and friends clung to hope Thursday as divers prepared to hunt for 12 people missing from a commercial boat that capsized in roaring winds and heavy seas off Louisiana two days ago.
Boats and aircraft have been combing a swath of the Gulf of Mexico the size of Rhode Island since the boat rolled and flipped Tuesday afternoon south of Port Fourchon, a base for the U.S. oil and gas industry. Part of the boat remained above the surface Thursday.
“A vessel that is capsized with the potential of people trapped inside, there are a lot of dynamic aspects we have to look at,” Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Lally said. “We don’t have a whole lot of information of where they are.”
The Coast Guard said that, when weather permits, divers would inspect the 129-foot liftboat Seacor Power. Winds were whipping up to 90 mph, and waves reached 9 feet when the liftboat – also known as a jackup rig for the retractable legs used to raise the deck above the water – was overwhelmed by water.
Six people were rescued Tuesday; one body was recovered Wednesday. Some family members were hoping their loved ones will be found trapped in air pockets.
Marion Cuyler, the fiancée of crane operator Chaz Morales, said she spoke to him shortly before the tragedy.
“He said they were jacking down and they were about to head out, and I’m like, the weather is too bad. You need to come home,” she said. “And he’s like, I wish I could.”
‘Pray for the lost’: Body found, 12 missing after boat capsizes in stormy seas
The family of Gregory Walcott, 62, told KATC-TV that he was on the boat. The family has heard nothing about his fate. Walcott has worked on the rigs for two decades, his niece said.
“We don’t have any words. It’s just … it’s like a bomb just exploded without any notice,” his niece, Crystle Randle, told the TV station. “We’re all just in a state of shock right now. We’re just staying in good faith that he will be found alive.”
Family members of Dylan Daspit told KATC he, too, was on the boat.
“Everyone pray for a miracle,” said his wife, Hannah Coleman Daspit. “He needs to come home to his family. We can’t live without him.”
Capt. Will Watson, commander of Coast Guard Sector New Orleans, was unwilling to give up hope that survivors would be found after more than 40 hours of searching late Wednesday. The massive effort over 1,440 square miles included more than a dozen authorized search boats and “good Samaritan” boats, five airplanes and three helicopters.
“When it comes to search and rescue, each case is dynamic and no single case is the same as the next,” he said. “It is always our hope to safely bring those people back and reunite them with their friends and families.”
The Coast Guard issued an urgent marine information broadcast Tuesday after being alerted that the boat was in distress. The cutter Glenn Harris, a 154-foot rescue ship, arrived on the scene within 30 minutes and pulled one person from the capsized vessel, the agency said. Another Coast Guard boat rescued one man, and boaters in the area pulled four more to safety.
Seacor Marine, which owned the boat, released a statement saying it was working with the Coast Guard and local authorities to locate “our valued team members and partners.”
“We would like to thank the U.S. Coast Guard and Good Samaritan vessels for their immediate response as well as the brave individuals who have further supported our search and rescue efforts,” the statement said. “Our hearts and prayers go out to everyone involved.”
Cuyler was unmoved.
“I mean, they shouldn’t have gone out,” she said. “There’s no way. They should have waited at least 12 hours.”
Contributing: The Associated Press