CAPE MAY - His eyes bloodshot from tears and saltwater, Jose Luis Ariese held a phone to his ear yesterday at a Cape May marina and broke horrible news to a relative in hoarse, broken English.
"No more," he said, choking up as he made a sweeping motion with his hand. "They no more."
Tough men bit their lips as they shook Ariese's coarse hands and women sobbed as they embraced him. It had become increasingly clear by 5 p.m. that Ariese may be the only survivor of a tragedy that took place 75 miles east of Cape May yesterday morning, when the seven crew members of the Lady Mary were cast into the frigid Atlantic Ocean.
Ariese and two unidentified crew members were plucked from the 40-degree water by a Coast Guard helicopter about 7:30 a.m. One of the men was dead and another, who was unconscious, died later. The Coast Guard also found an unmanned life raft.
As of last night, two Coast Guard helicopter crews, an airplane and the cutters Finback and Dependable continued to search a 225-square-mile area of ocean for four remaining crew members of the 71-foot scallop trawler.
At the dock, Ariese explained that the Lady Mary was hit by a wave about 5 a.m. yesterday, quickly began taking on water, and sank.
"It was 5 minutes maybe," he said. "Five minutes it go down."
Initial Coast Guard reports said that all seven men were wearing cold-water survival suits when they went into the water, but Ariese insisted that he was the only one. Even though the other crewmembers often joked with him about it, Ariese slept in his suit almost every night.
"No one else had one," he said.
Petty Officer Nathan Henise said that the men may have had the suits with them but it's unclear if they put them on as they went into the four-to-seven-foot seas.
If the men weren't able to get the suits on, their chances of survival were almost nonexistent, said Nils Stolpe, director of communication for the Garden State Seafood Association.
"Minutes, maybe an hour at the most," he said. "They wouldn't have much time before their bodies gave out."
The Lady Mary is owned by Roy Smith Sr., of Bayboro, N.C.; his sons Roy Jr. and Timothy were among the missing.
At Timothy White's bungalow, in the Whitesboro section of Middle Township, his father-in-law, Ralph Harris, remained stoic as daylight waned.
"I've always worried about him out there," he said. "We've lost a lot of people out in that ocean. I know if he survives, he'll be out there again, though."
Harris said that the Lady Mary was on its first trip of the season and returning home to Cold Springs Fish and Supplies on Cape May's Fisherman's Wharf after a week of scallop fishing.
Some of the Lady Mary's haul often wound up on plates at the Lobster House, an iconic Cape May restaurant about 50 yards from the dock, Harris said.
"When people are eating these scallops, they should remember there's people putting their lives on the line," Harris added. "It's a dangerous, dangerous job." *