By Greg Botelho
(CNN) — A crabbing expedition turned tragic Saturday morning when a boat capsized off Northern California, killing four people while a fifth clinging to a rock was rescued, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said.
The sole survivor, 66-year-old Phillip Sanchez, told authorities that he and the four others had set off around 8:30 a.m. (11:30 a.m. ET) Saturday on their 32-foot fishing boat, according to a Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office news release. They had company, as many others were also out on the water for the opening day of crabbing season, sheriff’s spokeswoman Sgt. Cecile Focha said.
Yet conditions weren’t ideal, with seas at 9 feet and winds of 17.5 knots (20 mph). Sanchez’s private boat was hit and flipped over by what Focha described as a “rogue wave” in Bodega Bay, about 60 miles north of San Francisco.
“The boat pitched, and they were all thrown from the boat,” the spokeswoman said.
Responding authorities from the Coast Guard and Sheriff’s Office found four people unresponsive in the water about 40 yards offshore.
One was pronounced dead there, while Coast Guard and Bodega Bay fire boats brought the three others to a nearby Coast Guard station. Once there, medical personnel performed CPR in the ambulance. None of these three people lived.
While Focha didn’t know exactly how long they’d been in the water, she said conditions were perilous with rough seas and water temperatures around 59 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sanchez, meanwhile, had swum and clung to an isolated, barnacle-filled outcropping known as Bodega or Seal Rock. As Focha explained, boats can’t pull up to the rock, so a Sonoma County Sheriff’s helicopter was brought in to rescue him.
So they did, with a sheriff’s deputy at the end of a 100-foot line pulling Sanchez up to safety. Dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, he was transported to a Santa Rosa hospital because he was “very cold” and for treatment of scrapes and abrasions, presumably from the sharp rocks, the sheriff’s office said.
Authorities do not believe that alcohol or drugs played any part in the incident.
While life vests were onboard the vessel, no one was wearing them when the boat capsized.
Focha said, “Life vests are what they are. It’s so tragic.”
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