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Old 02-11-2009, 02:46 PM   #1
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Default Anniversary of Hana’s Sarah Jo remembered

30 years ago, crew of 5 friends left on fishing trip — never to return


Thirty years ago today, five friends from Hana set out in the late morning for a fishing trip aboard the Sarah Jo. They were never seen again, although their boat and the remains of one of them were discovered on an uninhabited atoll 21 years ago.

On Feb. 21, family and friends will paddle canoes into Hana Bay for a memorial ceremony to be followed on shore by a luau, music, storytelling, laughter and tears.

The story of the Sarah Joe was more than a tragic boating accident. It was an unforgettable series of mishaps and surprises, and it still is much of a mystery.

Many people in Hana risked their lives to search during a violent storm for the crew of the Sarah Jo, a 17-foot Boston whaler.

Ralph Malaiakini, then 27, borrowed the boat from his twin brother, Robert. Ralph Malaiakini set out on Feb. 11, 1979, in the Sarah Jo from Hana with four friends. They played ball, drank beer and fished together. They called themselves the Nahiku Gorillas.

The day the five friends went to sea was a clear day and the ocean was "as flat and calm as it could be," in the later recollection of the late John Hanchett, whose son, Peter, then 31, was one of the five.

The others were Scott Moorman, 27, Benjamin Kalama, 38, and Patrick Woessner, 26.

It was just another day in Hana, and people did not pay special attention. Later, some said the men had called over citizen's band radio to report engine trouble, although Hanchett said they didn't have a radio.

By 1 p.m. that day, the wind was rising. By nightfall, the storm was violent. Bobby Poovy, who went out searching in his 26-foot boat, said that at times his vessel was vertical that night.

The Coast Guard search went on for five days and the private searching for much longer. Currents in the Alenuihaha Channel are swift, and the potential search area grew almost exponentially as the days went by.

The Naval Oceans Systems Center in San Diego had trained three homing pigeons to spot international orange or red. The birds' excellent color vision and resistance to fatigue were expected to vastly increase the search capability of aircraft.

However, the Coast Guard helicopter carrying the pigeons made a forced landing off Kona. No crew members were hurt, but the pigeons - the only trained rescue pigeons in the world - were lost.

One of the searchers was John Naughton, a researcher with the National Marine Fisheries Service. In 1988, Naughton was inspecting Taongi, the northernmost coral atoll in the Marshall Islands. He spotted a wrecked boat with a Hawaiian registry number on the hull.

He later said he immediately thought of the Sarah J but could hardly believe it. Once ashore, it was the Sarah Joe, and nearby a simple grave of heaped stones and a cross of driftwood contained the bones of Moorman. Nearby was what looked like a thick pad of note paper interleaved with aluminum foil. It did not have writing. No one knows who buried Moorman.

In 1989, the television show "Unsolved Mysteries" recreated the departure of the Sarah Jo, with several people who had taken part in the original rescue portraying themselves. Others took the parts of the lost men, with Robert Malaikini acting the part of his brother Ralph.

Friends hoped the publicity would draw out testimony from whoever buried Moorman. "We had to do it," Malaikini said of re-enacting his brother's last day.

No one came forward with information, and no more is known about the fate of the Sarah Jo than was known in 1988. Julie Moorman Sinenci, Moorman's sister, and her family believed her brother was alive when the Sarah Jo reached the waterless atoll. Forensic examination of the bones did not answer that question either.

The memorial will begin at noon on Feb. 21. Commemorative T-shirts will be sold. The Hana Canoe Club will paddle out for the ceremony.

Last edited by Zoneboy : 02-12-2009 at 12:34 AM.
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Old 02-11-2009, 03:50 PM   #2
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I cannot believe this happened 30 years ago. This story still freaks me out. That they even found the remains of one of the far away from still totally baffling.

ETA: This story about the lost crew of the Sarah Joe was posted in an old thread, but I thought I'd post it again. A really good read.

Last edited by nohwheregirl : 02-11-2009 at 08:58 PM.
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Old 06-09-2010, 01:39 AM   #3
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Couple of good theories I found while browsing articles about the disappearance:

Hawaii private investigator Steve Goodenow, who later accompanied a group to the island, said he believed some Chinese fishermen found the body and buried it but did not tell anyone because they were fishing there illegally.

Malaiakini, who has kept the battered Sarah Joe in his back yard, said he thinks Moorman might have tied himself to the boat to weather the storm.


A Honolulu private investigator hired by the families of the five men pieced together a probable scenario using weather data, information from interviews with officials of three governments and his personal search of Sybilla Island.

Before the Sarah Joe swung southwest, the storm carried it northwest "tantalizingly close" to the island of Kauai. At that point some of the men may have tried to swim ashore and drowned in heavy seas. It took the boat two full months to drift to Taongi Atoll. If any of the other men died on the boat, their bodies must have been buried at sea to explain why no other remains were found on Taongi Atoll.

Scott's body was the only one left aboard when the Sarah Joe crashed over the reef at Sybilla Island. Some years later a crewman from a Taiwanese fishing boat found Scott's remains on the island and buried them. He failed to notify Marshallese authorities in order to avoid trouble for his vessel, which was fishing illegally in Marshallese waters.

I think the theory of tying himself to the boat makes sense. Anyone else have opinions and theories?
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Old 06-13-2010, 03:56 PM   #4
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In the newer thread on this case, one poster suggests that, when you view the atoll where the Sarah Jo was found on Google maps, you can spot something that might be the Sarah Jo. Indeed, there is something on the shore, that might be a wrecked boat; but, as one of the above stories verifies, it can't be the Sarah Jo. That boat was brought back to the United States.
"You can't say the words that the rock makes you feel like." - Patty Johnson
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Old 04-23-2012, 12:38 PM   #5
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I wonder how they found this Thai fisherman? I assume he came forward later? If so I think this guy's theory makes a lot of sense. I had always assumed that the boat came close to other islands on its journey, which might explain why only one body was found.

Also, it doesn't address the fact that the U.S. survey of the island missed the boat in 1985 (the boat was found in '88). Perhaps the surveyors simply missed it or there was no survey of the island at all (and the family member was mistaken).
DISCLAIMER: All of my posts are opinions based strictly on my viewing of the "Unsolved Mysteries" television show and should in no way reflect or imply that I have any intimate knowledge of any of the cases presented. Everything I say is merely my opinion based on my viewing of the show.
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Old 06-17-2014, 07:31 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Thiussat
I wonder how they found this Thai fisherman? I assume he came forward later? If so I think this guy's theory makes a lot of sense. I had always assumed that the boat came close to other islands on its journey, which might explain why only one body was found.

Also, it doesn't address the fact that the U.S. survey of the island missed the boat in 1985 (the boat was found in '88). Perhaps the surveyors simply missed it or there was no survey of the island at all (and the family member was mistaken).

Or they didn't survey at all without the family member being mistaken, since government employees have a habit of doing these things.

Apostapler, the weather data is interesting and probably the most probable. Obviously none of them are alive. It's a funny but typical UM gimmick to ask that question even after it's obvious they all died.
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Old 06-21-2014, 05:59 PM   #7
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If the island was surveyed, perhaps the surveyor was unaware of the Sarah Joe's disappearance and simply thought the Whaler had broken loose from a dock or mooring during a storm. Whalers also have fairly low profiles and perhaps it had been less visible at the time of the survey due to shifting sands or debris.

A 17 ft Boston Whaler is no match for the open ocean and in particular a channel between islands where the current is strong on a GOOD day. By the sounds of it, those men wouldn't have had a chance in the squall that came up. An 85hp outboard won't do much more than 30 mph in the best of circumstances on a boat that size.

While Boston Whalers are extremely hard to sink, their low gunwales make it easy to fall out of, particularly in bad weather. I don't think the men tried to swim to Kauai or were buried at sea, I suspect that they were washed overboard at some point. If Scott was driving, he might have tied himself to the wheel. I wonder if there were PFDs on the boat. If so, I would think they'd have donned them if they were going to try to swim to Kauai.
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