June 3, 2005 — A Florida man is missing and presumed dead after ascending a sailboat mast that later toppled into the sea south of St. Croix, U.S. Coast Guard officials said Friday.
Peter Church, 22, of Clearwater, Fla., climbed the mast of the 32-foot boat on Wednesday to free a sail that had become entangled. Heavy winds swung him into the mast, knocking him unconscious, said Coast Guard spokesman Lt. J.G. Eric Willis.
According to Willis, Church was seated in a pulley-propelled boatswain chair at the top of the mast and became tangled in the boat's rigging. The boat's two other crew members, Sean Riley and Capt. Gerald Listokin, were unable to pull him down.
The crew began cutting lines to free Church when the roughly 40-foot-tall mast fell over, plunging Church 20 feet below the ocean surface in five-foot seas, Willis said.
Riley, 42, dove into the sea but was unable to find Church. Listokin radioed a distress call to the Coast Guard at approximately 4 p.m.
Riley and Listokin cut the mast loose of the boat soon after the incident, fearing the rough seas might cause the mast to puncture the boat's hull, Willis said.
At 7 p.m. a Coast Guard jet spotted the boat, and a Dutch navy ship patrolling the area reached the boat soon after.
Rescue teams could find no sign of Church.
After the sailboat encountered engine trouble, the Dutch war ship towed the sailboat 60 miles north to Frederiksted. FBI agents interviewed and released Riley and Listokin, Willis said.
Coast Guard officials were unsure why the mast fell but dubbed the sailboat "unseaworthy."
It was not clear where the boat had sailed from or the crew's next port of call, Willis said.
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