A freighter disappears with nine people on board after leaving Miami for Haiti.
In January, 1989, Falcon jets from the United States Coast Guard searched the Old Bahama Channel in the Caribbean for an 82-foot freighter called the Freedon. The ship was on its way to Haiti but had been reported missing. On board were seven Haitian crewmembers, a young sea captain, and a 23-year old American journalism student named Lisa Bishop. Lisa's mother, Linda Bishop, said that Lisa had called her to say goodbye on the morning of her departure:
"I could feel something was wrong. Mother's intuition, I guess you could call it. Lisa was to call me when she arrived. And that call never came."
Lisa wanted to write an article about the contrasts between the wealth of America and the economic devastation of Haiti. Her voyage on the Freedon was the chance of a lifetime, even though it meant leaving behind her boyfriend of three years, Paul Cornwell:
"We had a long discussion the night before she left, that she had to make her own decisions in life, that I couldn't follow her and take care of her wherever she went."
Somewhere between Miami and Haiti, the Freedon simply vanished. No one has any idea what happened or why. People have suggested everything from pirates, to smugglers, and even the mysterious Bermuda Triangle.
Lisa's voyage began when she met a 28-year old German national named Florian Meyer Bourch at a nightclub owned by her boyfriend. Florian was a marine mechanic and sea captain who had sailed throughout the Caribbean. According to Linda Bishop:
"From what I've learned about him, Florian is a drifter, and he sponges off of people. Freeloads."
A year after their first meeting, Florian told Lisa of an upcoming voyage from Miami to Haiti. He invited her to join him. Paul was upset when Lisa told him that she planned to sail to Haiti with Florian:
"I didn't trust him with Lisa. Of course, I was concerned about Florian, you know, being a young guy. And she tried to tell me there was nothing to worry about, there was nothing romantic. I tried to discourage her as her parents tried to discourage her from going."
Lisa's father, Bill Bishop, said there was no talking Lisa out of it:
"I expressed my feelings about it, that I didn't want her to go or anything, and Lisa was a very headstrong girl when she made up her mind to do something."
On the morning of December 17 th , 1988, at 2:30 in the afternoon, tugboats eased the Freedon through the Miami River on its way out to sea. The Freedon's planned route would take the ship 600 miles past the coast of Cuba to Gonaives, a small port on the western coast of Haiti. There were no storms and no distress calls, but the Freedon never arrived. When Lisa didn't call on Christmas Day, her family became concerned. Lt. Cdr. Jeff Karonis was with the U.S. Coast Guard:
"The relatives of the people on board kept calling us, asking us for information. We kept in touch with the port authorities in the various ports in the Caribbean area, and likewise, down in Haiti. We sent several search and rescue flights in the most commonly traveled areas in the Old Bahama Channel, which is the area between the United States and Haiti. Still, it was unsuccessful."
Linda Bishop and her husband traveled to Miami:
"We came to Miami hoping to maybe get some answers from some of Florian's friends or just find anything we could. We were desperate."
Finally, Lisa's parents received a promising lead. An underwater salvager named Bob Nyberg said that he had seen the ship two weeks after it was supposed to have disappeared:
"I remembered that while I was working in Grand Cayman in January of that year, there'd been a boat that came in. We were working underwater, directly in the harbor area where the ships pulled up and tied up. When I heard the ship coming in, we came up, and as I was coming out of the water, we looked back and noticed that the name was Freedon. F-R-E-E-D-O-N. And I made a statement to my friend, that those guys need their freedom, they can't even spell the word. They were there for some time that afternoon. The next morning the boat was gone."
Nyberg saw the Freedon in Georgetown Harbor on Grand Cayman Island, over 500 miles from Haiti. It was the kind of news Linda Bishop had been hoping for:
"The fact that the ship was spotted, and that it had not gone down, brought me hope that Lisa was alive and had to be held against her will in order for her not to contact us."
Lisa's boyfriend, Paul Cornwell, and Bob Nyberg went to Grand Cayman to pursue the lead. They met a number of witnesses who claimed to have seen Florian around the same time that Nyberg spotted the Freedon. Apparently, Florian was not alone during his mysterious visit to Grand Cayman. Some saw him with a short man with black hair.
Paul returned to Atlanta and questioned a woman who had been storing Florian's personal belongings. There he found a picture of the man seen with Florian in Grand Cayman. The woman said his name was Phillipe. Paul later found out that it was actually Phillipe who had chartered the Freedon.
"The girl told me that he mentioned that he was involved in a large scale smuggling thing, and that something had gone wrong, and that they had gotten involved in something too deep that Lisa didn't know about and couldn't handle it. I feel that if Florian is out there, eventually, I'll find out about it, and I'll locate him."
Authorities believe that Florian Meyer Bourch is the key to the Freedon's disappearance.