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Senior Chief Benny Minton, of the U.S. Coast Guard, told msnbc.com that 37 people had been rescued, including some who managed to swim to shore. They then walked to get help as they found themselves in an isolated area about 87 miles south of San Felipe.
There were 27 U.S. citizens and 17 Mexicans aboard the 105-foot vessel.
Minton said the boat “went down fairly quickly” at about 2:30 a.m. PT (5:30 a.m. ET) Sunday.
However, he said “everybody had enough time to put on life jackets and they were pretty close to land.”
“Some of the survivors were able to swim to an island or back to the mainland,” Minton said. They then had to “walk for a long time before they reached civilization,” he added.
Minton said the U.S. Coast Guard was notified about the sinking at 8 p.m. PT (11 p.m. ET) and a helicopter was being sent from San Diego to help search for those still missing. It was due to arrive at 8 a.m. PT (11 a.m. ET) Monday.
“It’s in Mexican waters and they are the lead agency so far as search and rescue goes in this case,” he said.
He said three Mexican boats and a helicopter were involved in the search operation.
Minton said the chances of finding the six missing people alive were “still pretty good.”
“The sea water temperature there is fairly warm … they have life jackets on and they can stay floating for a long time. They are not at risk of hypothermia,” he said.
He said some might have made it back to land in a different location to the group that walked to safety and still be lost in the “pretty isolated” area.
The tourist boat had left the port of San Felipe on the Sea of Cortez — a haven for windsurfers and sports fishermen — on Saturday.
An online advertisement for the boat, the Erik, said it offered six-day fishing trips for $800 to $1,100.
“The boat is your floating hotel and restaurant. The food is excellent quality Mexican and American cuisine, all cooked fresh,” it says.
Local officials said the search had been hampered by bad weather.
“We are still looking for the rest of the people,” local port official Felipe Vallecillo told Reuters. “The weather is really bad right now, with strong wind.”
Vallecillo said weather conditions were normal when the boat set sail on Saturday.