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Grandpa missing in Sea of Cortez
Retiree, six others, went in water during fishing boat mishap
Mark Dorland Sr., 62, with sons Jeremy and Mark Jr. at a happier time in 2003. - photo by Photo Contributed

Retired plumber Mark Dorland Sr., 62, - with strong family ties in Manteca – remains among the seven fishermen still missing after their 115-foot-long fishing boat sank early Sunday morning in the Sea of Cortez waters off Baja California.

While living in Twain Harte and having worked at his trade in San Jose, Dorland was described as a family man who spent much of his time with his two sons’ families in Manteca and their children along with his sister in Stockton, according to his daughter-in-law Shelley.

The family spends their evenings together now praying and in thoughtful silence hoping he will be found safe and come back soon into their family circle.

Dorland’s two sons, Mark Jr. and Jeremy, both graduated from Manteca High School.  Dorland has eight grandchildren from four to 17 years old.  The grandchildren have become “very quiet” over the unknown fate of their grandfather.  One was seen going on Facebook asking friends to say a prayer that he is found safe.

Shelley Dorland said that her father-in-law – scheduled to be married next month – went on his first fishing trip aboard the “Erik” over the Fourth of July last year.  She said he had so much fun that he planned to make it an annual event for the July holiday.

With his being missing at sea, it is even more chilling to think what could have been a multiple disaster.  Dorland had been urging his two sons to go with him on the week-long fishing trip, but because of the bad economy the some $1,100 cost was out of the question, she added.

The family has been in continual contact with the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana, Mexico, being kept informed on the extended search effort.  At about 4 p.m. Thursday all the families of the missing were scheduled to be part of a conference call to update them on the active map parameters.

There is also a website that has been created on Facebook under the title, “Find Our Fathers.”  Those related to the missing fishermen have posted photographs and descriptions of their loved ones.

Shelley Dorland said the find of an additional cooler in the water on Thursday gave searchers a new hope in finding those who had been tossed into the rough sea in the unexpected electric storm.  That ice chest find prompted officials to go beyond the normal 96-hour search limit as the weekend neared.     

She also told of talking to his friend Bob Higgins who had been rescued from the Sea of Cortez waters some 15 hours after the boat’s sinking.  The two men had gone on the trip together and were bunking below deck when the lights went out as a storm developed.

Shelley quoted Higging as saying he followed Dorland up on deck in the darkness, thinking maybe the burning smell was coming from his cigarettes.  He told her that a huge wave washed over the deck and took Dorland with it as ice chests crashed down upon them from an upper deck.

Higgins said he grabbed onto one of the coolers and jumped off the floundering boat and into the water as a second wave struck the craft.  Due to the lack of lighting, the fishermen fighting to survive were unable to see each other in the 84-degree windswept waters, he added.

In his account, he added that the boat sank quickly – within a minute.  With apparently little time for the crew to send a distress call, no one on shore was aware the boat went down with survivors in the water.

He said that four or five clinging to ice chest – including himself – made it to shore on their own.  Others clung to safety rings and life vests.  Leslie Yee, 65, of Ceres was reportedly found floating lifeless in the water by rescuers.

Among the missing are Don Lee, Russell Bautista, 60, of Penngrove, CA; Brian Wong, 54, of Berkeley, Gene J. Leong, 67, of Dublin; Al Mein, and Shawn Chaddock.  Thirty-four fishermen and crew members were rescued by the Mexican Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard.

According to the Associated Press the search was expanded to a wider area on Thursday and continued with helicopters and aircraft searching the Gulf waters.  Divers also prepared to search the wreckage, which is in water more than 200 feet deep.

The U.S. Coast Guard sent a C-130 aircraft that can stay in the air longer and search farther than the helicopter that was used Monday, according to Petty Officer Levi Read.

“According to our calculations, there is a possibility of survival of the ones who are still missing,” according to Read who said water, air temperature and body types of those missing were the factors in consideration.  “Heat stroke is certainly a concern,” he said.

Three helicopters from Mexico’s navy, the state of Baja California and the city of Mexicali were also searching.  The aircraft and helicopters have covered more than 1,400 miles and boats have navigated around 900 miles in the gulf.

Wearing T-shirts donated by souvenir vendors, survivors walked around the port city of San Felipe, trying to hire people with boats to go out into the gulf.