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Coast Guard rescues two mariners 50 miles offshore

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Sherman rescued two mariners early Tuesday morning from a life raft 50 miles west of Costa Rica.

At 7:20 a.m., a Coast Guard C-130 crew, from Air Station Sacramento (Calif.), located the life raft in the vicinity of the EPIRB signal and confirmed there were two people in the life raft. The crew dropped food, water and a radio to the survivors.

The Sherman, a 378-foot high endurance cutter, was in the vicinity and went to the scene. The cutter arrived at 9:30 a.m., and lowered its smallboat so it could transfer the two survivors from the life raft.

The two men rescued are the master of the Black Pearl, Stephen Szukics, 55, of Fort Worth, Texas, and James Winningham, 45, of Murphy, Calif. Szukics and Winningham said they were en route to Texas via the Panama Canal aboard the Black Pearl, a 55-foot boat home-ported in Loch Lomond Marina in San Francisco, when the vessel sank. The two survivors are reported to be in good condition and will be transferred to land at the cutter’s next port call.

"They told me they were pretty darn happy to see that Coast Guard aircraft wave its wings at them this morning," said Capt. Mathew Bliven, commanding officer Coast Guard Cutter Sherman. "Fortunately they did a number of things right to ensure their survival until we could reach them, such as having a survival bag packed and carrying a 406 MHz EPIRB."

The search for the Black Pearl started early May 4 when the 11th Coast Guard District Rescue Coordination Center in Alameda received a 406 MHz EPIRB signal registered to the vessel. Upon initial notification, the Coast Guard issued an Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue System alert and contacted the rescue coordination center in Costa Rica. AMVER is sponsored by the United States Coast Guard and is a voluntary global ship reporting system used worldwide by search-and-rescue authorities to arrange for assistance to persons in distress at sea.

Several AMVER vessels responded to the alert, but only one vessel was diverted to the search area. The vessel was unable to locate any signs of distress during their search efforts.

"You never know when the sea is going to deal you a bad hand, so taking those precautions probably saved their lives," said Bliven. "It certainly made the Coast Guard's job a lot easier. My crew is glad it turned out well and that we get to return them safely to their loved ones. That's a good day at sea for us."

Click here, here and here for photos of the Black Pearl rescue.