GRAND ISLE, La. (CN) --- The U.S. Coast Guard will stop its search and rescue at sundown for the remaining eight crew members from a lift boat that capsized Tuesday, an official said during a press briefing Monday.
“We’ve had to make the difficult decision to suspend search and rescue efforts at sunset today,” said Coast Guard Capt. Will E. Watson, commander of Coast Guard Sector New Orleans, during the briefing.
The Seacor Power lift boat, a massive 190-foot vessel that delivers supplies for the oil and gas sector, overturned Tuesday afternoon with 19 crew members aboard during an unexpected storm with hurricane-force winds and destructive waves as it traveled from Grand Isle, La. toward Venice, La.
Six crew members were rescued Tuesday. Since then, five bodies have been recovered, with eight people still missing.
Seventeen divers will continue to search through the wreckage Monday and all this week, weather permitting, an official said during Monday's briefing with the Coast Guard, the National Transportation Safety Board and executives from the owner of the Seacor Power. The lift boat remains mostly submerged in 55 to 60 feet of water eight miles from Grand Isle.
The boat has not been moved in the hope that the missing crew members are alive and surviving within air pockets onboard.
Monday’s press conference was the first time families of the missing crew members heard that the Coast Guard was suspending its search and rescue efforts.
“There was a lot of hugging and a lot of crying,” Watson told the Times-Picayune after the briefing. “There was a lot of sadness and grief.”’
Bad weather lasted through Saturday night along the Louisiana coast where the Seacor Power overturned, preventing rescuers from remaining at the lift boat for long periods and frustrating rescue attempts.
John Gellert, president and CEO of Seacor Marine Holdings who owns the vessel, was asked during the briefing why the boat attempted to sail in bad weather.
Gellert said the decision was made by the captain, who he called a veteran mariner with 50 years of experience.
“The weather they ultimately encountered ... was well beyond the forecast,” he said.
Gellert added it appears one of the Seacor Power’s legs is partially retracted, an indication the captain attempted to lower them in the storm, which would have converted the boat to an offshore platform above water, a more stable position.
Speaking for the first time since the capsize, Gellert said the vessel appears to have been about one minute into that transformation which would have ultimately taken about 12 minutes to complete.
Gellert said 17 divers were searching the vessel Monday and will continue to search as long as the weather allows. The divers have been through about half the vessel so far, he said.
“The families continue to have hope and prayers, and we would like everyone to continue their thoughts and prayers for the families of those who are still missing,” Gellert said.
Among the five bodies found was that of Capt. David Ledet, 63, of Thibodaux, La.
The fiancé of one of the missing crew members told the Times-Picayune on Thursday that she had reason to believe the remaining crew members are inside the boat. She said she had heard directly from one of the six people who were rescued that the remaining passengers – contractors and staff – were on board.
“The guy who got rescued said they are in there – all 12 should be in their rooms waiting to be rescued,” said Marion Cuyler, the fiancé of missing crew member Chaz Morales, speaking outside of a Port Fourchon firehouse where she and others received a briefing from authorities about search efforts.
The friends and loved ones of the missing crew members, as well as the public, held their breath waiting for the bad weather to let up so the vessel can be properly searched in the realization that air pockets aboard the vessel will only provide oxygen for a finite amount of time.
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