Rockville -- The family of Walter F. Schwuchow III was relieved to hear Wednesday morning that their son and three other crewmen aboard the Whitewater II are doing OK and heading back to Charleston after the 63-foot commercial fishing vessel was struck by lightning.
The crew contacted the Coast Guard in Jacksonville, Fla., via VHF radio about 4 a.m. Wednesday and reported that a lightning strike knocked out the boat's navigational equipment a couple of days ago, according to Petty Officer Cindy Beckert.
It was the first time anyone had heard from the ship since Sunday.
"I feel a lot better than not knowing anything," said Schwuchow's father, Buddy Schwuchow, of Wadmalaw Island.
The ship had last made contact with its shore station via satellite phone about 5 p.m. Sunday. Its last known location was about 230 miles off the coast of Mayport, Fla.
The Coast Guard had sent out a C-130 long-range surveillance aircraft from Clearwater, Fla., to search for the missing boaters.
Crew members told the Coast Guard that they are cutting the trip short but did not need assistance heading back to the Charleston area, Beckert said. The boat spends about half the year working out of Cherry Point.
Officials said they expect the ship to arrive in the Charleston area sometime today.
Beckert stressed the importance of filing a float plan, as the Whitewater II did.
Before losing contact, the ship had conducted communication checks with the ship's owner every 10 hours.