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Search widens for 5 missing American sailors

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • The Pineapple left Guam on January 6 for the Philippines
  • It is six days overdue
  • Five Americans are on the vessel

(CNN) -- U.S. military aircraft and a Coast Guard cutter Saturday searched a large swath of sea for a catamaran and five American sailors that went missing between Guam and the Philippines.

The 38-foot Pineapple was last seen January 6 in Guam harbor, officials said. The crew was making the 1,400 mile (2,250-km) journey to the island of Cebu to deliver the vessel, Coast Guard officials said.

The crew is experienced and well-provisioned, but the craft has no long-range emergency communications equipment and faced challenging winds during part of the journey, officials said.

The four unidentified men and one woman are friends and have taken sailing classes, said Coast Guard Lt. Gregg Maye, command center supervisor in Guam for search and rescue.

"The experience level gave us confidence," Maye said of the crew. "The master has made voyages like this before," he said of the captain of the vessel, which has a white hull and white sails.

U.S. forces are searching 60,000 square miles of the Philippine Sea, and the Philippine coast guard is searching its islands, Maye told CNN.

Two Coast Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft, a Navy P-3 Orion, a U.S. Navy H-60 Seahawk helicopter, an Air Force C-12 aircraft and the cutter Sequoia are leading the search effort. The Republic of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia have allowed the United States to use their airfields, the Coast Guard said in a statement.

The Pineapple's crew was expected to arrive at the central island of Cebu around January 16.

"They were well-stocked," Maye said. "They took plenty of water and provisions." And people who have been on the sailboat said it was in good condition and seaworthy.

Winds and currents were mostly favorable, but the 30-knot winds on part of the journey are troubling.

"Rigging and sails can get fouled. That's why we are concerned," the lieutenant said.

Officials don't believe the double-hulled vessel carried a satellite phone or distress radio beacon, Maye said. The crew has a hand-held radio with a range of a few miles.

The captain apparently told someone the trip would take seven to 10 days, but it can take longer, Maye said.

"We would have expected for them to make the journey in two weeks."

On Tuesday, a relative contacted authorities, who began an investigation. And on Wednesday, the Coast Guard requested the use of the C-130s, which had to be flown from Hawaii, refueled and prepared for the aerial search, which began Saturday morning. One is being flown from Guam, the other from the island of Yap.

The Coast Guard is using current and vessel drift models to determine the "optimal search area," Maye said.

Broadcasts to commercial vessels have not yielded any sightings, the Coast Guard said.

CNN's Phil Gast contributed to this report.