What happened to the lost crew of the “Sarah Joe”?

The five friends set out for a day of fishing

A jaw bone was found 10 years later


Benjamin Kalama and Patrick Woesner

On February 11th, 1979, in the town of Hana on the Hawaiian island of Maui, five local men left their small village to go pleasure fishing on a 17-foot Boston whaler named the ‘Sarah Joe’. The men, Benjamin Kalama, Ralph Malaiakini, Scott Moorman, Patrick Woesner, and Peter Hanchett, were all experienced fisherman. They left around 10 in the morning. It was a clear day and the weather was calm. But in the early afternoon, the winds suddenly changed direction, the sign of a pending storm. Peter’s father, John Hanchett Sr., grew concerned:

“I told Dave we better get down the coast to see if we could spot those boys and wave them in.”

As the storm grew, John and a friend went in search of the Sarah Joe:

“By this time it was really blowing a gale. And the rain was beginning to come down and it was storming. We went out of Hana Harbor about a half a mile and then down the coast, and I still didn’t see any sign of the boys. The oceans were fierce; I’ve never seen it get that rough.”

Ralph Malaiakini and Peter Hanchett

The next day, John continued the search with the help of marine biologist John Naughton. Their search that day would prove fruitless. Nobody else had reported seeing the Sarah Joe. The following day, the Coast Guard joined the search. But, according to Capt. Jim Cushman of the U.S. Coast Guard, they really didn’t know where to look:

“The initial place where we started searching was very ill-defined, because we weren’t really sure exactly where the Sarah Joe had gone fishing. So it encompassed a relatively large area, initially that first day, and then the area got bigger and bigger and bigger. When the search was finally suspended five days later, we had searched 73,000 square miles.” 

Over the next few weeks, the Hana residents combed the local beaches, looking for any sign of the missing Boston whaler. When no trace was found, their loved ones eventually gave up all hope.

Scott Moorman

Then, ten years later, on September 9th, 1988, an incredible coincidence suddenly led to a major break in the case. Two thousand miles west of Hawaii in the Marshall Islands, John Naughton, the very same marine biologist who had searched for the Sarah Joe a decade earlier, was on a wildlife expedition. On a deserted atoll called Taongi, he spotted a small boat. John and his crew went onshore to inspect the wreckage:

“On the boat, there were still a few letters and numbers from the registration number, and immediately I saw that it started with an ‘HA’, which indicates that the boat was registered in the Hawaiian Islands.” 

About 60 yards away, John and his crew came upon another startling discovery, a shallow grave:

“When we got up there we could see immediately that there was a human jaw bone protruding out of the pile of rocks. At that time, we had no way of knowing that the gravesite was associated with the wrecked whaler.”

A storm kicked up soon after they left

After finding no sign of anyone else on the island, the men contacted the Coast Guard. They ran a check of the registration number and made a positive ID: it was the Sarah Joe.
The grave was excavated and parts of a human skeleton were uncovered. Dental records identified the remains as Scott Moorman, one of the five missing men. Capt. Cushman explains a strange clue also found buried with the skeleton:

“It was a sheaf of paper, and I’d say a book, except it was not bound. Probably three inches by three inches by maybe 3/4 of an inch thick. But between each one of these pieces of paper, there was a very small square piece of tin foil material. We have not been able to determine who placed that there or, what purpose it serves.”

Their boat was found 2000 miles away

Experts say that the Sarah Joe could have drifted 2,000 miles to the Marshall Islands.  If so, it would have arrived in about three months. But according to the brother of one of the missing men, a U.S. government survey of Taongi a full six years after the men disappeared found no trace of the Sarah Joe. If this is true, where was the boat in the time between its disappearance and the government survey? Who buried Scott Moorman?  And what is the significance of the pad of paper found in the grave?

These unanswered questions have left some wondering if any of the other men might still be alive.

Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season two with Robert Stack and in season six with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis FarinaVarious seasons available now on Hulu.