Alaska News

Girdwood couple and friend missing on Mexico-to-San Diego sailboat trip

Three experienced American sailors, including a couple from Alaska, are missing during a trip around Mexico’s Baja California peninsula and would have been battling strong winds and 15-foot waves from the outset, Coast Guard officials said Monday.

The Mexican Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard continue their search for the trio, who were expected to arrive in San Diego more than a week ago, according to authorities.

Kerry O’Brien and Frank O’Brien and their friend William Gross were last heard from when they left Mazatlán, Mexico, on April 4, the U.S. Coast Guard said in a news release. Kerry and Frank O’Brien live in Girdwood, according to Ellen Argall, Kerry O’Brien’s mother.

They left the coastal town in the Mexican state of Sinaloa on a 44-foot LaFitte sailboat and planned to stop in Cabo San Lucas on April 6 to resupply, officials said. But there is no record of their boat arriving at the port in Mexico, according to authorities.

The trio are “experienced sailors,” according to a joint statement from their families. Gross has over 50 years of sailing experience, while wife and husband Kerry and Frank O’Brien each have 20 years’ experience and a captain’s license with the U.S. Coast Guard, the statement said.

On the day the boat was last seen, local conditions on the ocean were “rough,” U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson Levi Reed said. Winds were around 34 mph with ocean waves of 15 to 20 feet, Reed said.

Ocean Bound left Mazatlán at 9:30 a.m. heading west across the Sea of Cortez, according to the family’s statement, but the boat did not check in to the Cabo San Lucas marina by Saturday or Sunday. According to the family, someone on the boat attempted to contact the marinas in Cabo San Lucas by cellphone, but their calls were short based on cellphone pings, which means they were probably unsuccessful in getting a connection.


There has been no radio contact from them since, the family said.

Their boat, the Ocean Bound, has not been sighted, and search and rescue crews have contacted port officials across Mexico, including in Baja California, to alert them about the missing sailors, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Urgent broadcasts have been sent out about the sailors and their boat, with request for all mariners in the area to keep lookout.

“The sailing community has hundreds of additional vessels looking for our family members,” the family said in their statement. “Sadly they have not seen or made contact with them either.”

Both U.S. and Mexican agencies have searched along the Baja California coast by ship and aircraft. The U.S. Coast Guard is assisting the Mexican government, which is taking the lead in the search and rescue operation.

There are two areas of focus for the search operations, according to the statement. One area assumes that the boat lost radio contact but continued traveling to San Diego, north or south of Turtle Bay on the Baja peninsula. The second area assumes the boat became disabled and went adrift, which would include a 100-mile area south and southeast of Cabo San Lucas and near Puerto Vallarta, the family said.

The family thanked the U.S. Coast Guard and the Mexican Navy for their help in searching for the O’Briens and Gross.