Man recalls survival at sea as search continues for missing boater
The U.S. Coast Guard and the Hawaii County Fire Department are searching for a man who left Hilo on a small rowboat Friday and hasn't been seen since.
Richard Gomez, 48 of Hilo, set out to sea around 10 a.m. and may have been headed to South Point, about 80 miles away. The Coast Guard has been using its Search and Rescue Optimal Planning System to determine wind speeds and direction as well as ocean currents. The Coast Guard Cutter Kittiwake is also assisting in the search, along with aerial assets from the Hawaii County Fire Department.
For Jon Stockton, 39 of Hana, Maui, the search for Gomez is personal. It brings back a flood of memories and emotions when he was lost at sea 11 years ago for five days.
"The hardest thing is when you're in sight of the shore and you're just doing everything in your will power to try and get back," Stockton said in a telephone interview with KITV4. "You just realize that you don't have the power — the ocean does."
In late July, 2002, Stockton left the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on a 17-foot kayak for a paddle along the Big Island's Kona coast. Several hours into his peaceful journey, Stockton encountered a fast-approaching storm that capsized his craft and began blowing him out to sea.
"I remember how quickly it went from just a pleasurable time on the water to just absolute panic," recalled Stockton. "That 360 degrees of water all around you is incredibly lonely and a feeling of just helplessness."
Like Stockton, it's believed Gomez has some supplies to keep him going. The Coast Guard says Gomez had some sandwiches and five gallons of water before setting off from Hilo. However, by the fifth day at sea Stockton's supplies were quickly diminishing and only a few sips of water remained.
"Not having enough water, not enough food, missing and not knowing what your family is going through, it is absolutely excruciating," said Stockton.
Stockton said his Christian faith helped him survive his ordeal, but so did a sense of hope that he would once again see his family. It's that same message he wants Gomez's relatives to hear. On his fifth day at sea Stockton was spotted by the crew of a Navy P-3C Orion aircraft.
"I just would encourage (the family) to hang in there, keep praying every way you know how and just believe that things are going to come out the best they can," said Stockton. "We're all hoping for you and praying with you."
The Coast Guard says it has reached Gomez's next of kin in Oregon, but declined to release the name of the town where they are located.
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