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.
“He’s going to mope for days,” Judith Garcia said. “He always waits for Sam to get home from fishing.”
Langley was described as a longtime Bodega Bay resident who wore flannel shirts, Wrangler jeans and drank cans of Pepsi. His live-in girlfriend died a while back, and he had a son in the Paradise area and a daughter in Idaho.
“Jessie was a super-nice guy,” said Kevin Kraft of Folsom, who also was in town for crab season. “He loved the ocean.”
Sanchez told sheriff’s officials he went out at 8:30 a.m. The boat and its crew were coming back after finishing crabbing for the day. They were traveling about 10 mph on the west side of Bodega Rock when a sneaker wave hit the port side of the boat, flipping it and launching Sanchez into the water, sheriff’s officials said.
Though no one on board was wearing a life vest, sheriff’s officials said they were available on the craft.
There was a small-craft advisory in effect Saturday, Fox said. Afternoon conditions at the marina were windy and the water was choppy.
Kurtis Janes of Santa Rosa, who also was out crabbing, said conditions were ripe for an accident. Like many others, he said he knew Langley and Garcia for a long time and would miss them both.
“It’s pretty nasty out there,” Janes said, gesturing toward the open ocean. “When you get around that rock, Mother Nature takes over.”
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ppayne. You can reach Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or email@example.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.