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5 Americans missing in Pacific land in Philippines

By JIM GOMEZ,Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 05:06 a.m. HST, Jan 24, 2011


MANILA, Philippines — Two coast guards armed with ships, planes and helicopters searched the Pacific for a group of Americans whose sailboat ran into bad weather and was reported missing last week, but a cell phone call from the boat finally brought the adventurers to shore Monday.

Relief greeted the five when they arrived in the central Philippines but also censure: The U.S. Coast Guard commander in Guam — whose force scoured the high seas along with their Philippine counterparts — chided the sailors for not adequately preparing for the voyage.

The Americans' catamaran, called the Pineapple, ran into bad weather after departing from Guam on Jan. 6 on a journey to the central Philippine island of Cebu and relatives of the crew — four men and a woman — reported them missing Jan. 18. Guam, a U.S. territory, is about 1,400 miles (2,290 kilometers) east of Cebu.

A Philippine coast guard ship reached the 38-foot (11-meter) catamaran on Sunday after it was spotted by plane the previous day. The plane was not immediately able to confirm the boat's identity, however, Philippine coast guard chief Adm. Wilfredo Tamayo said.

A woman aboard the boat was able to contact her husband by cell phone Sunday afternoon — apparently once she came within range of cell phone service — and he called rescuers in Guam to give them the boat's coordinates, the U.S. Coast Guard said in a statement.

"The husband confirmed the vessel ran into bad weather and suffered a rudder and radio casualty. This delayed the Pineapple's voyage but it was never in danger of sinking," the statement said.

Rescuers escorted the vessel — one of its rudders damaged — to a port on Leyte Island, where the crew refueled, got their passports stamped and treated themselves to a meal, the coast guard said.

The U.S. Coast Guard, which said it had spent 63 hours searching for the sailboat, expressed relief that the boat was found but faulted the crew for failing to carry long-distance communication or emergency distress equipment and not filing a comprehensive float plan.

"I'm elated for the family and friends of the Pineapple, but compelled to point out that this voyage was made without taking basic, commonsense precautions," said Capt. Thomas Sparks, U.S. Coast Guard Guam commander.

The group did appear to have packed enough food for the trip that it didn't become a problem, Philippine coast guard Capt. Anelito Gabisan said.

The Americans were lucky, Tamayo said, pointing out that they drifted into the Philippines when its seas were roiling from weeks of stormy weather that caused nearly a dozen boats to sink, overturn or run into trouble.

"It's an experience they will always remember," Tamayo said, referring to the American sailors. "They're lucky. They met a challenge and it's good that it did not turn into something worse."

Tamayo said the American crew, including a Filipino-American in the U.S. Air Force, were fine. The U.S. Embassy in Manila has declined to release their identities and hometowns.

The U.S. Coast Guard had deployed a HC-130 Hercules aircraft, two Navy P-3 Orion planes, two Air Force C-12s and a patrol ship to search an area of 122,600 square nautical miles (317,530 square kilometers) for more than 63 hours, the agency said.

A video taken from a search plane showed four of the Americans on top of the white-hulled catamaran, one apparently waving, as a rubber boat with coast guard personnel approached.

___

Associated Press writer Teresa Cerojano contributed to this report.






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