Four people were killed and a fifth was rescued when their fishing boat capsized Saturday off Bodega Rock on the first day of the recreational crab fishing season, authorities said.
The 32-foot fiberglass boat named The Frog was returning from an early morning trip before 10 a.m. when it was broadsided by a sneaker wave and flipped over, a Sonoma County sheriff’s spokeswoman said.
The lone survivor, Phillip Sanchez, 66, of Bodega Bay, told rescuers he was thrown into the water and swam to the rock just off Bodega Head, Sgt. Cecile Focha said.
He remained there in just a T-shirt and jeans until he could be rescued by a helicopter, Focha said.
The others — three men and one woman — were found unresponsive in the water, Coast Guard officials said.
None wore life preservers.
Authorities identified three of the victims as Jessie Daniel Langley, 79, and Samuel Garcia, 86, both of Bodega Bay, and David Costa, 60, of Ripon. They withheld the name of the woman pending notification of family.
Langley and Garcia were described as colorful residents of the tight-knit fishing community.
“It’s just horrifying,” said Kelly Martin, manager of a local grocery store who knew both men. “We called Jessie ‘Uncle Jessie.’ That’s how well we knew him. He was old-school hillbilly. Sam was the cranky crab guy. Everybody loved Sammy.”
Langley’s boat broke apart on the rocks, leaving a trail of debris drifting to the south.
It was unclear whether a cleanup effort was attempted.
Fatal accidents are not uncommon in the often rough waters, especially in crabbing season when so many people are out, fishermen in the area said Saturday. Officials estimated as many as 300 boats were out for the start of the recreational crab season.
The opening of the season is a regional holiday of sorts, with hundreds of people converging on Bodega Bay to camp and cook out. The commercial season is set to begin in two weeks.
Those in town for crab season were surprised to hear Saturday’s victims included at least two experienced fishermen.
“They weren’t newbies,” said Bob Lim of Sacramento, who knew Langley and Garcia. “That was their livelihood.”
Authorities were alerted to the wreck at about 10 a.m. when they received a mayday call from an onlooker reporting a capsized boat just west of Bodega Rock, Bodega Bay Fire Capt. Justin Fox said.
The Coast Guard found two victims: one unresponsive in the water and Sanchez on top of the outcropping also known as Seal Rock.
Sanchez, who was conscious and alert, was flown to shore and taken by ambulance to a Santa Rosa hospital, sheriff’s officials said.
He told rescuers about the others on board, and Bodega Bay fire and Coast Guard officials returned to the scene.
Three more victims were pulled from the water a short time later, Fox said.
They could not be revived, authorities said.
Garcia and Sanchez both lived nearby in Porto Bodega Marina. Langley had a trailer somewhere else in Bodega Bay, a friend said.
Sam Garcia’s wife, Judith Garcia, said she was told by coroner’s officials that her husband had been killed. She said the retired refinery worker, who lived in a shingled house within view of the docks, loved fishing and crabbing. Their white Shih Tzu named Bandit paced her front room as she talked.