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Fort Bragg man dies after boat capsizes off Mendocino coast

A Mendocino Coast man died and two others were rescued after their boat’s propeller became tangled in crab pots and capsized in rough seas near Noyo Harbor on New Year’s Eve, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The victim has been identified as Richard Mottlow, 67, of Fort Bragg by friends and the local mortuary. His body was recovered New Year’s Day.

“He was just one of those guys everybody in the community loved,” said Darren Henman, funeral director and general manager of Chapel by the Sea.

The survivors - a woman and man also believed to be from the Fort Bragg area - were rescued Saturday night, Coast Guard officials said.

The boaters were returning to Noyo Harbor after collecting crab pots when they ran into trouble, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Gabriel Tait said.

They called for help about 6 p.m., reporting their approximately 30-foot vessel’s propeller was caught in crab pot lines, causing it to lose power while entering Noyo Harbor, he said. The Coast Guard launched a 47-foot boat but was unable to locate the distressed vessel, he said.

Tait said he and other Coast Guard officials went to a lookout at Todd Point, just south of the Noyo Bridge, where they heard a woman screaming for help. Using flashlights, they located her trapped in the water of a deep, narrow cove, wearing a life vest and being pulled and pushed by the waves, he said.

About 15 minutes later, rescuers found a man in another steep gully, but he was safely out of the water and sitting on the rocks.

Rescuers from the Fort Bragg Volunteer Fire Department rapelled down the steep cliffs to reach the woman and pull her out of the water, Tait said. A firefighter warmed her with blankets until a helicopter arrived and lifted her out of the ravine before transferring her to the local hospital, he said.

Rescuers then rapelled down another steep cliff to rescue the man, Tait said.

By that time, some 45 personnel from multiple agencies, including the Coast Guard, Fort Bragg Fire and Police departments, Cal Fire, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office and others, were on scene searching for the remaining man and the boat. Two Coast guard helicopters and a fixed-wing plane also scoured the area, ultimately finding the boat, broken to pieces in a cove, but not the victim.

The ground searches were suspended at 11 p.m., Tait said.

They resumed along with overflights early New Year’s Day and the man’s body was found about 7 a.m., Tait said.

Tait said all three people had been wearing life jackets, but the victim was found without one, not far from the boat’s wreckage, Tait said.

“Without a doubt, life jackets saved those two’s lives,” he said.

Tait said the ocean was rough Saturday night, with 8- to 10-foot waves and winds of up to 20 knots. Such conditions are not unusual in the winter, he said.

Details of how the boat overturned were unclear, but it may have gotten too close to the rocky shoreline as it approached the harbor, Tait said. The channel is narrow and shallow and, this time of year, populated by crab pots.

“It’s crab season,” Tait said. “People have crab pots all over the area.”

He said he believes the victims’ crab pots were elsewhere.

Once the propeller was caught in the crab lines, the boat either was inundated by waves or overturned, Tait said.

Fort Bragg residents who knew Mottlow are reeling from the loss, Henman said.

“Everybody’s just devastated,” he said.

With his tattoos, long white hair and beard, and motorcycle gear, Mottlow might appear intimidating but “he was a teddy bear,” said Henman, who met him about two years ago while managing the funeral of another Mottlow family member.

Family members were not available Monday, but according to Mottlow’s Facebook page, he was married and had a son who recently died.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 707-462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MendoReporter.

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