Boat sinks – several students and faculty dead or missing |

Boat sinks – several students and faculty dead or missing

MICHELLE RAY ORTIZ, Associated Press Writer

SAN DIEGO – A boat full of college researchers studying spiders and scorpions sank off a remote island in the Sea of Cortez, leaving at least four dead and prompting an international search for the missing.

The inflatable boat carrying 10 University of California, Davis, students and scholars apparently capsized late Monday when strong winds churned up 4- to 6-foot waves, UC Davis spokeswoman Lisa Lapin said Tuesday.

Three people were rescued after they swam to a nearby island, Lapin said.

Lapin said survivors at the scene reported the recovery of four bodies, including a male graduate student and a visiting Japanese scholar. The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City also confirmed four dead, including at least one U.S. citizen.

Among the missing was Gary Polis, chairman of the UC Davis Department of Environmental Science and Policy, one of the world’s leading experts on spiders, said Paul Sabatier, the department’s vice chair.

The Coast Guard sent a C-130 airplane and a Jayhawk H-60 helicopter to assist in the search after receiving permission from the Mexican Navy Tuesday afternoon, Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Robertson said.

Representatives from the U.S. consulate in Tijuana were en route to the scene.

The researchers were returning in two 22-foot, open inflatable boats from Isla Cabeza de Caballo, about four miles from the coast of Bahia de Los Angeles, a remote bay on the Gulf of California about 250 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border. The boats became separated.

Researchers on the second boat initially searched for the other craft, then reported it missing late Monday.

One of the students involved in the expedition was reached by telephone Tuesday, but declined to comment.

”At the moment, we feel most comfortable saying ‘no comment.’ We are all in agreement on this,” she said, declining to give her name.

Two Mexican naval ships, a helicopter and a plane searched the region Tuesday under clear skies.

”From what we understand, there was a mix of students, faculty and visitors from Japan” aboard the missing boat, Pat Bailey of UC Davis said by telephone.

Polis, an ecologist who specializes in food web dynamics, came to UC Davis two years ago from Vanderbilt University and traveled to Bahia de los Angeles three or four times a year for research,

Located in a rugged, desert landscape, Bahia de Los Angeles is a tiny collection of hotels and tourist campgrounds that is a popular destination for sports fishermen, kayakers and wildlife biologists.