Officials suspended their search for a missing fisherman Thursday night after his two crew mates were rescued earlier in the day following the sinking off Cape May of the Linda Claire, a Port Norris-based fishing boat.

The missing man, Joshua Catlett, 24, of Port Norris, was aboard the 40-foot fishing boat when it sank Thursday morning while dredging for crabs at the entrance of the Delaware Bay.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Nick Ameen said Thursday afternoon that the boat, white with a blue hull, had been found mostly submerged surrounded by a debris field, but he did not know what caused the vessel to sink, sending its crew into the frigid waters of the bay.

The Coast Guard and State Police searched for Catlett about six miles west of Cape May Point in the bay where the boat capsized.

Ameen said the active search was suspended at 8:10 p.m.

Two other men, Chris Serra, 27, of Vineland, and Dave Wood, 25, were rescued by good Samaritans aboard the vessels Captain Brown and Sandra Lee. The survivors were later transferred to emergency medical services personnel ashore at Coast Guard Station Cape May.

At one point in the search, according to audio recordings of communications between Coast Guard members and the other vessels, all three men were believed to have been rescued.

“All three men are safely on board,” one person reported.

But soon it was relaized one was still missing.

“Was he wearing the survival suit or just street clothes,” another voice asked. There was no answer.

Earlier in the recordings, someone on the Captain Brown was asked if the crew members were wearing lifejackets.

“No lifejackets. No lifejackets on,” the voice replied.

Later in the recording someone from the Coast Guard asked about that third man.

“Was that third individual recovered? We have the father here,” he asked.

There was no audible answer.

A crew member aboard the Captain Brown informed Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay of the sinking at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

Boat crews from Station Cape May, Aids to Naivigation Team Cape May and a helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City all joined in the search. The New Jersey State Police took part with a boat crew and a helicopter crew.

Serra’s girlfriend, Jillian Maroney, said the sinking was something she feared.

“I’m still in shock. I really am. This is my worst fear,” she said.

She said Serra, who had been working on the boat a long time, suffered severe hypothermia.

Maroney said Serra and Catlett had just started working on the boat together.

State Police Lt. Stephen Jones said it was unclear if Catlett was wearing a lifejacket.

U.S. Coast Guard records indicate the boat was owned by Jeffrey H. Moore of Port Norris. The fiberglass commercial fishing vessel was built in 1994 by Carmen Boats Inc.

The State Police coincidentally issued a warning Thursday about the hazards of cold water this time of year, saying off-season months are very dangerous for boaters because of the increased speed at which muscle fatigue sets in.

Staff Writer Lynda Cohen contributed to this report.

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