In late February, four men are believed to have climbed aboard a 50-foot yacht and embarked on a voyage to Aruba.
They made it about 20 miles east of the St. Johns River in Florida. That’s where the yacht they were on was found destroyed and in pieces on Feb. 24.
One man’s body floated among the wreckage. The others had disappeared.
How the boat got that way and what became of the passengers is shrouded in a mystery that has now led investigators to Charleston.
More than two weeks later, a blurred image of a thin man wearing a gray, hooded sweatshirt and walking along a dock at the Charleston City Marina is one of few leads investigators said they have to go on.
The image of the man, who U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Lauren Jorgensen said is believed to be an American captain named Larry, was captured two days before the wreckage was discovered.
The vessel, dubbed “On the Weigh,” stopped in Charleston to stock up on fuel for its journey down the Southeastern coast, Jorgensen said.
The Charleston marina logged the yacht’s entrance and found video of the American captain. But with the vessel being one of 4,000 to frequent the area each year, marina harbormaster David Rogers said they had little else to offer investigators.
On Feb. 24, the U.S. Coast Guard spent more than 50 hours searching roughly 3,000 square miles of water for the missing men, Jorgensen said.
“The U.S. Coast Guard doesn’t search for bodies. We search for survivors,” Jorgensen said.
But they found none.
“We will search for as long as we believe is a reasonable amount of time that someone could survive. But once we pass that point, we stop looking. That’s what happened here,” Jorgensen said.
Rescuers did recover a man’s body floating amid the wreckage. A passport identified the dead man as a 49-year-old Venezuelan named Guillermo Gonzalez Losada. With that discovery came a lead, Jorgensen said.
Investigators questioned the man’s family and friends and learned of the American captain.
They believe that the man was escorting three Venezuelan men headed for Aruba. But they have yet to determine his full name or where he is from, Jorgensen said.
The yacht’s owner, a Venezuelan businessman named Chong Kang Lum Valles, is said to have attended a boat show in Miami with friends shortly before the voyage. He then bought “On the Weigh” from a man in North Myrtle Beach, Jorgensen said.
The former owner from Myrtle Beach pointed investigators south to Charleston, where video of the captain was found.
So far, only the three Venezuelan men have been identified. Of the three, only one man’s remains have been found. The rest, including the captain, are still missing.
Jorgensen would not provide details on what caused the vessel to wreck or how it ended up in pieces, citing the ongoing investigation.
Anyone with any information about the man shown in the photograph from Charleston is being asked to contact Coast Guard investigators at 904-564-7511.
Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.