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Alex Mac trawler is a boat accessible salt water dive site, located in Manasquan, NJ. The maximum depth is 61-70ft/19-21m. The average visibility is 5-10ft/2-3m.

Low lying wreck, The 68’ wooden hull has completely disintegrated.

4 crew Sunk:Thursday June 29, 2006
collision in fog - 2 casualties

From In the waning daylight Thursday, the glint of metal in the darkening Atlantic captured Kevin Pavone’s attention. Pavone and his colleagues aboard the Gambler, a charter fishing boat, identified the bobbing box as a cooler, an expensive one meant to hold fish, and it didn’t belong in the water 6 miles off the coast of Manasquan. The mates scanned the horizon. A white strobe light winked back, a sign the Gambler had stumbled across someone in distress. Then they spotted the survivors, two men clinging to what was left of the Alex Mac, a 64-foot scallop boat.

Most of the boat was gone, 70 to 80 feet down on the ocean floor, along with two of its crew members, a 16-year-old boy and his uncle. The pair died in the cabin where they were sleeping when the vessel struck a barge and sank. Yesterday, State Police divers retrieved the bodies of the teen, Michael Lantman, and his uncle, Thomas Lantman, 39. A Coast Guard spokeswoman, Kim Smith, said she did not know where the Lantmans lived. Michael Lantman’s father, she said, was from Philadelphia.

The Alex Mac’s survivors, pulled to safety by Pavone and his crewmates, were identified as captain Michael Vanderpol and first mate Merle Robert. The two men, whose hometowns also were unavailable, were treated at Ocean Medical Center in Brick. "You hope this never happens, " said Pavone, 17, of Toms River. "It’s good that we got two guys, but we’re still missing two."

The Coast Guard continues to investigate what caused the 8 p.m. collision between the wooden scallop boat and the much larger steel barge, which was being towed by a 91-foot tugboat, the Jo Anne Reinauer III. Both vessels were moving in thick fog at the time, the Alex Mac toward scallop grounds farther east and the tug toward its home dock in Staten Island, Coast Guard Duty Officer Tom Peck said.

Peck declined to say whether both vessels had operable radar and running lights, citing the ongoing probe. Vanderpol and Robert, in the pilot house when the collision took place, both were questioned, Peck said, as was the operator of the tug. No charges were immediately filed. It remained uncertain yesterday whether efforts would be made to refloat the sunken vessel, which was based out of Atlantic City and owned by a Manahawkin couple, David and Kyle Michel. David Michel is a local race car driver. Kyle Michel is the sister of a retired NASCAR mainstay, Martin Truex Sr. The Michels could not be reached for comment.

Leading up to Thursday’s collision, the Alex Mac had been berthed for two days at a Point Pleasant dock owned by Tom Gallagher, who runs a busy welding business that caters to fishermen seeking repairs on their boats. Gallagher said he sometimes lets Vanderpol take a berth for free before a fishing outing. On Thursday evening, Vanderpol and the Alex Mac headed out to sea for a day, hoping to collect their 400-pound limit of scallops.

The first hint of trouble at the Coast Guard’s Atlantic City station came at about 8 p.m., when someone aboard the tug radioed in. "The tug called us and said his tow (line) jerked, " said Peck, the Coast Guard spokesman. "He thought he might have hit something, and he wasn’t sure." On the Alex Mac, Vanderpol believed something had struck his outrigger, a gear-carrying arm that extends along the side of the boat, Peck said the captain later told them.

The damage was far more catastrophic than Vanderpol initially believed. Peck said the bow, or front of the boat, suffered enough damage that the sea gushed in, flooding the cabin where the Lantmans had been sleeping. They never made it out of the cabin. Vanderpol and Robert escaped the pilot house and inflated a life raft, Peck said. They remained on the foundering vessel only a short time.

By 8:15, the Coast Guard received a signal from the Alex Mac’s emergency beacon, showing that it had begun to sink. By then, Coast Guard boats were on the way. But it was the Gambler, out on an evening bluefish run with 19 fishermen aboard, that stumbled on the scene first at about 8:30. Pavone, working his second summer on the charter boat, said it appeared the two survivors were holding on to a small piece of wreckage.

The Gambler pulled alongside the men and, after tossing them a life preserver, helped them aboard. "They just wanted out of the water, " he said, saying they appeared to be very cold after their time in the 62-degree Atlantic. Vanderpol and Robert were treated on the boat by two customers who worked as EMTs, he said. The Gambler cut short its fishing to rush the men to land. Pavone downplayed his own role in the event. "This is something I didn’t look forward to doing, " Pavone said, "but it had to be done."

Staff writer Tom Feeney contributed to this report


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