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Fisherman recounts harrowing journey

| Sunday, April 21, 2013, 7:03 p.m.

HOUSTON — John Reynolds and the four others aboard the Nite Owl weren't worried when the thunderstorms made it impossible for the commercial fishing boat to return back to shore. They'd seen this kind of weather before.

They did what they normally would, tying the boat to an oil rig off the Texas Gulf Coast and going to sleep. But early Friday morning, “a rogue wave, a freak wave or something hit the side of the boat,” Reynolds said.

“It just collapsed the cabin ... where the captain sleeps,” he said on Sunday as the Coast Guard announced it was calling off the search for the other four people aboard the vessel. “When it hit, it tore the whole top of the boat off.”

The captain was sent overboard, and within two minutes, the 50-foot vessel sunk. One crew member tried to reach the captain, while Reynolds and the two others saw a life raft. Reynolds was the only one who reached it.

He then spent about two hours floating in the Gulf of Mexico before the Coast Guard rescued him.

The Coast Guard scoured a 5,400-square-mile area with planes, helicopters and boats looking for Reynolds' four crewmates before calling off its search.

“I'm just sorry they didn't find anybody. I wish all the guys would have been in the life raft with me,” Reynolds said.

The Coast Guard has identified three of the missing fishermen as Don Windom, Duoc Dan Nguyen and Jamie Esquivel. Larry Moore, the boat's owner, identified the fourth missing man as Charles Patrick, the vessel's captain.

What became a harrowing journey for Reynolds and the four other men began Thursday when the Nite Owl left Port Bolivar, near Galveston, for what was to be an eight- to 12-day fishing trip, said Moore, who runs M.L.T. Seafood Inc. in Golden Meadow, La. The Nite Owl is the company's only fishing boat.

Reynolds, 56, from Gaston, Ala., said that after the boat was hit by the “freak wave,” he and three other crew members who had been sleeping below deck, climbed upstairs, pushing debris out of the way. Realizing Patrick was missing, they began calling out for him. Patrick answered them back once, although they couldn't see him.

“The first and only thing I heard him say was he told us to get our life jackets on,” Reynolds said.

The life jackets had been washed away, and the men were soon in the water as the boat quickly sank about 115 miles southeast of Galveston.

Reynolds said one of his crewmates appeared to be in shock and didn't seem to want to let go of some debris he was clinging to. The other crewmate, who was not a good swimmer, seemed to follow Reynolds.

Reynolds said as he was trying to get his crewmates into the raft, he was also bailing water out of it. The 10-to-12 foot waves soon swept the raft away from his crewmates.

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