BARNEGAT LIGHT, N.J. - Coast Guard rescuers continued their search today for two crew members from the commercial fishing vessel Alisha Marie, which sank last night in the Atlantic Ocean 25 miles east of Barnegat Light.
A surviving crewman, Robert Mark Cooper, of Point Pleasant, told rescuers that the 38-foot vessel had been hit by a large wave that "caused it to roll."
Still missing this afternoon were William Brown Jr. and Joseph Bell, both of Newport News, Va.
A Coast Guard dispatch station in Virginia received an electronic alert from the Alisha Marie, which is based in Point Pleasant, at about 7 p.m. yesterday, according to Petty Officer Crystalynn Kneen.
The agency contacted the owner of the boat and confirmed that it was at sea. The owner said that the vessel had all the proper safety equipment on board, including flares, a life raft and survival suits for each crew member.
A rescue helicopter was dispatched from the Coast Guard Air Station in Atlantic City and within minutes of arriving at the scene found Cooper in a life raft. He told rescuers he was the only person who managed to get into the raft before the Alisha Marie sank, Kneen said. The water at the time was 39 degrees with six-foot waves, officials said.
Cooper was taken to Atlanticare Medical Center in Atlantic City where he was in stable condition today after being treated for undisclosed injuries.
Kneen said the Coast Guard would continue to search for the missing men "until it's determined there's no chance for survival." The agency makes that determination by considering such factors as the weather, water temperature and health of the missing crew members.
The Alisha Marie is the second commercial fishing boat to go down in the region in six weeks. The Coast Guard last month called off a search for three crew members aboard the commercial fishing vessel Sea Tractor within 24 hours of its sinking in 18-foot seas off Cape May. The ocean was agitated by a severe nor'easter when the 48-foot scallop trawler sank.
After the body of one of the Sea Tractor's crew washed up in North Carolina about a week later, an autopsy revealed that the man had lived for more than several days following the incident despite harsh conditions on the water. The boat was operated out of Cape May but its home port was in North Carolina.
This year has been an especially rough one for those involved in New Jersey's fishing industry. Six of seven crew members died when the scallop trawler Lady Mary, which also operated out of Cape May and was based in North Carolina, sank 65 miles off Cape May in March.
An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard is underway to determine what caused it to go down.
Air crews from Coast Guard stations in Barnegat Light and Elizabeth City, N.C., are assisting the Coast Guard cutter Ibis in the search for the Alisha Marie.