What happened to the lost crew of the “Sarah Joe”?
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:
As the storm grew, John and a friend went in search of the Sarah Joe:
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:
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.
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:
About 60 yards away, John and his crew came upon another startling discovery, a shallow grave:
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:
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.