Hilton Head Island -- A longtime member of the island's shrimping community fell overboard Wednesday into rough seas and disappeared beneath the waves, according to the Coast Guard and friends.
Willis Lewis Frazier , 50, a crew member of the Miss Pudgy, fell off the rail of the 47-foot shrimp boat around 5 p.m. about four miles from the north end of Hilton Head, the Coast Guard said. He was not wearing a lifejacket, according to the Coast Guard.
The engine on the Miss Pudgy had died, and Frazier had tried to unsuccessfully to fix it. He then went to the rail of the boat, where he was last seen, according to Operations Specialist 1st Class Brian Hillman.
The crew of a nearby shrimp boat, the Rip Tide, saw him fall in and called the Coast Guard, Hillman said.
The guard searched until 6 p.m. Thursday, calling off the search after 24 hours, according to Hillman.
Frazier's 30-year-old daughter, who lives with him in Hardeeville, told Coast Guard officials he suffers from epilepsy.
"She said he was diagnosed three years ago and had been prone to seizures in the past year and a half," said Lt. John Savarese of the Coast Guard station in Charleston.
Coast Guard officials notified Frazier's immediate family of the incident Wednesday, including his two sisters who live on Hilton Head Island. His daughter said Frazier was not married, Savarese said.
Tonya Desalve of Benny Hudson Seafood said Frazier has been a fixture of the island's fishing community for many years.
"He's always been part of our fishing family," she said.
Eugene Orage, owner of the Rip Tide, said he had talked to Frazier on Tuesday and begged him not to go out, because of his health.
Orage was not on the Rip Tide on Wednesday but said his crew told him of the incident.
The Rip Tide, based at Benny Hudson Seafood, towed the Miss Pudgy back to Hilton Head, Orage said. Desalve said the Miss Pudgy docks in Jarvis Creek at the Crazy Crab restaurant.
Rescuers battled 6-foot to 8-foot waves and wind gusts between 20 and 25 knots Thursday.
Conditions were also difficult Wednesday. The Coast Guard had to call one if its small patrol boats back Wednesday night because of rough seas, Hillman said.
It used two helicopters and a cutter during part of the search. By Thursday afternoon, only the cutter was still involved in the search, and it was called off at 6 p.m.
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources assisted Wednesday and Thursday, using a plane and a beach patrol equipped with an all-terrain vehicle and boats on standby, said DNR Sgt. Michael Paul Thomas.
Beaufort Water Search & Rescue Squad also sent boats to assist Wednesday, according to Skipper Dick Jennings.