Trevor Horan was onboard the Mandy Ness with Capt. Jim Mears on a clear night Tuesday, under a full moon with 15-knot winds and 3-foot seas, when the vessel capsized. The cabin filled with water. Horan knew they had to get out.
That’s the terrifying story he told to his grandmother, Charlette Michels, of Stafford Township’s Ocean Acres. Michels tried to hold back tears Wednesday as she told the story her grandson had shared with her about his last minutes aboard the Mandy Ness. Mears, 54, of of Barnegat Light, was killed in the capsizing that occurred about 10 miles off Long Beach Island.
“He told me he was in the cabin and Captain Mears was below and was going to take a nap,” Michels said. “Trevor was knocked down when he felt something might have hit the boat, and he said he may have passed out.”
Horan, 22, of Stafford Township, told Michels that when he came to, he and Mears were submerged in water with about one foot of air. The men found a survival suit but could not put it on because they were both wet.
Michels said the men fumbled in the dark, flooded cabin for a light and finally used the strobe light attached to the survival suit. The men were submerged for about 45 minutes, Michels said her grandson told her.
“He told me he felt a window was knocked out and that it might have happened when they were possibly hit by a cargo ship,” she said.
Horan, a husband and father of a 2-year-old son named Ashton, stripped off his clothes in the frigid water so he wouldn’t get caught on anything during the escape, Michels said.
“He said, ‘Jimmy we’re going up. We’ve got to get out of here.’ He pushed himself out of the hole, but Jimmy didn’t come up,” Michels said of Mears.
U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Crystalynn Kneen said an emergency positioning beacon sounded at about 11:15 p.m. Tuesday, alerting the Coast Guard that the boat, a 44-foot commercial monkfish-scalloper, was in distress. The beacon sends a position signal when it hits water, indicating a boat has capsized, Kneen said.
The Coast Guard sent a helicopter from Air Station Atlantic City in Egg Harbor Township, a 47-foot rescue boat from the Barnegat Light station and sounded an urgent marine broadcast alerting boaters in the area, Kneen said.
The Frances Anne was first on the scene and rescued Horan, who was treated on shore and released. Coast Guard rescue swimmers went into the 44-degree water in search of Mears. The rescue swimmers found him unresponsive in the capsized vessel.
Coast Guard rescuers performed CPR as Mears was flown to Atlantic City Air Station. He was then taken by ambulance to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, Mainland Campus, in Galloway Township, where Mears was pronounced dead, Kneen said.
Mears was the father of two children.
The incident is under investigation by the Coast Guard.
Michels was in her living room when Horan returned from Southern Ocean Medical Center on Wednesday afternoon. She said her grandson had sought medical attention because he was having difficulty breathing and may have breathed in oil and water when the vessel was submerged.
Michels said Wednesday morning Horan was “stoic and quiet”.
She said Horan grew up fishing with his late grandfather, who had a boat. She said her grandson told her that he made it out alive because his grandfather was there with him.
“He has fished all of his life. I don’t know if he’ll go back out. I don’t want him to go back out there,” she said. “It’s so sad that we lost someone like Jim out there,” she said.
Mears’ brothers, Daniel and Rick, confirmed the identity of the deceased to a Press of Atlantic City reporter.
According to previous stories in The Press, Rick Mears was the captain of the Frances Anne, the 72-foot swordfish boat that arrived first on the scene. Also according to previous reports, Daniel Mears was the captain of the Monica, a commercial fishing boat based in Barnegat Light.
The Mandy Ness is out of the Lighthouse Marina in Barnegat Light, according to Kneen and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fishing-catch-allocation reports.
The Frances Anne was featured on the Discovery Channel show “Swords,” which looked at life on a swordfish boat. Its home port is in Philadelphia, according to the Coast Guard, but the boat frequently works from Barnegat Light, according to its Facebook page.
Mears’ brothers Danny and Rick met with members of the media at the family’s Barnegat Light home, Danny clutching a framed photo of Mears and his family.
“We lost a great guy,” Rick Mears said.
“We lost our brother. This is a tough thing for all of us to go through,” Danny Mears said.
Frank Tomasco, manager of Lighthouse Marina, which is owned by the Mears family, spoke of Mears while trying to hold back tears.
“He was just a big goofball. He was always smiling,” Tomasco said.
Tomasco said that on Tuesday night, Mears and his crew member were out to sea, fishing for monkfish and would have been pulling into the dock Wednesday afternoon.
Tomasco noted Wednesday morning that the job is dangerous.
“Especially this time of year when the water is cold. But these guys don’t think about it, they just go,” he said.
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