Saturday, March 10, 2012

The sinking of the Shooting Star, part 5: psychics & shadow governors & seriously special executive aides

Just what happened on the night of June 13, 1974?
     THE SECOND VOLUNTEER SEARCH. By Tuesday, the 18th of June, 1974, the disappearance of the Shooting Star and her crew of ten, including OC Supervisor Ron Caspers, was a big news story, and, though it had been nearly five days since the SS’s MAYDAY (late Thursday night), there was considerable interest among the public in launching another civilian search, even as it was clear that chances of finding any survivors were almost nil. A large prayer meeting occurred in the Supervisors’ meeting room. Meanwhile, plans were made.
Ron Caspers
     Even more aircraft were involved in this second effort, including planes to ferry personnel to and from Guerrero Negro. Early Wednesday, at OC Airport, there was a briefing, and then the squadron headed south, commencing a search of Vizcaino Bay (the waters between the Baja coast and Cedros Island) by noon. This time, there was considerably more ground support as well, including a tanker with 4000 gallons of aviation fuel and a radio network, linked to the Supervisor’s office and command post back in Santa Ana (Orange County). There was even a massive effort to photograph and search the Baja beaches, using planes and four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Way out west: Guadalupe Island
     GOOD LORD, PSYCHICS! Plus: psychics got involved:
On Wednesday, a well-known psychic was flown to the search area, meeting with the volunteers at the El Presidente [hotel in Guerrero Negro] that evening to give his impressions of the voyagers washed up on a rocky island and huddled in caves. He was flown next morning to scan islands where he felt survivors might be found. One of the photo planes was dispatched to Guadalupi Island, 200 miles to the west, to photograph its shores after another seer had a vision of the men clinging to rocks there. (From "The Last Voyage of the Shooting Star, part 2," by Wayne Clark; Orange County Illustrated, Dec., 1974)
     Gosh, I wonder if they tossed chunks of cash into the ocean, too? That would have been more useful.
Guadalupe Island: psychic misdirection
     THE COAST GUARD (TRIES TO) PULL THE PLUG. On Wednesday night, the Coast Guard, a more objective player, decided to give up the search, but the usual suspects got to California Senators Tunney and Cranston, who pressured Coast Guard bigwigs in Washington, and so the Venturous and search planes, already heading home, turned back to the search area. On Thursday, they resumed a search “southeast along the drift line from the debris area, offshore from Turtle Bay.” Meanwhile, the civilians scanned 75 miles to the south in a strip of ocean from the coast to 50 miles out.
     Nothing was found.
     Thursday evening, a week after the sinking, the Coast Guard finally headed home, but the volunteers back in Guerrero Negro planned for yet another day of searching, this time further south another 100 miles.

Tom Fuentes, 1973
     YOUNG TOM FUENTES PULLS THE OTHER PLUG. On Friday morning, however, just as the squadron was ready to set off, they got a call from the Santa Ana command post, which
insisted they abandon the plan and return home. Caspers’ executive aide, Tom Fuentes, reasoned the risk of one of the volunteer planes going down at sea was too great, now that the Coast Guard had withdrawn. The chance that any of the Shooting Star party still survived was also very slim. Reluctantly, the volunteer squadron returned home. (LVSS)
     I find this odd. —Not the decision, but who seemed to make it. Fuentes could not have been senior among the crew back in Santa Ana, which seemed to count some fairly powerful county figures among its members. He was a mere Supervisor’s aid and at most 25 years old. He had no military or rescue experience.
     Why was this green kid making decisions for the search effort? Why would he be even advising the éminences grises huddled in that office in Santa Ana?
     I’ve got other questions.
Tommy Klein, Supervisor
Clark's "executive aide"
     Keep in mind that the writer of the account I am here relying on—Wayne Clark—had been or was at the time a Supervisor’s deputy, whatever that is. I’m not entirely sure about the chronology, but Clark seemed to have ended his PIO job at UCI in about 1973 or 1974, and the next job listed in his bio is the “Supervisor’s deputy” gig (I haven’t determined which Supervisor). If Clark had that job at the time of the SS disaster, it seems likely that he was friendly, or at least acquainted, with some of the principals of this story. Consider the Shooting Star crew: Caspers, of course, was a Supervisor, and Fred Harber, the yacht’s owner, was the mastermind of several recent election victories (including Caspers, I believe). Tommy Klein, like Fuentes, was a Supervisor’s (viz., Ralph Clark’s) “executive aid.” (You'd think the five executive aids--and deputies?--would be chummy, but who knows.)
     Was Clark acquainted with some of the victims of the Shooting Star disaster? And was he close to Fuentes or to others directly involved in commanding or executing the search efforts?
     And, again, why does Fuentes have so prominent a role?
     Possibly, Fuentes was close to Caspers’ family and to Caspers’ wife. I came across an article about the SS disaster (dated 6/24/74) that reports:
   Fuentes said he and Caspers’ wife, Ann, had asked Caspers not to make the trip. “Premonition is perhaps too strong a word to use here,” Fuentes said, “but Ann and I had a bad feeling about the whole thing. Neither of us liked the boat.”
     I dunno. Maybe Fuentes was close to the family and that gave him special authority with regard to whether the search effort should continue.
     No doubt there are perfectly good answers to my questions. I wonder if Clark is still around? I might give ‘im a call.

* * *
Cella's search heads south
     POLITICAL BOSS CELLA, HOWEVER, WON'T GIVE UP. So, on the 21st, based evidently on Fuentes’ concerns for the safety of searchers, the large volunteer search effort was called off.
     But Dr. Louis Cella, a close associate of Caspers and Harber (and the boss of OC’s then political machine—aka the OC “shadow government”), pushed on with great determination. He hired four airborn spotters for the tuna industry to scan the area south of Cedros Island all the way to Magdalena Bay, 300 miles away. They found nothing.
     Cella also hired (through a Mexican go-between) perhaps as many as 200 villagers to search the beaches. That effort was continuing as Clark was writing his articles (in late 1974).
     As I indicated earlier, the SS’s Boston Whaler was eventually found on July 4 by a Swedish freighter, 60 miles south southwest of Magdalena Bay. (That’s 350 miles south of where the other debris was found.) The whaler was “awash” with its outboard motor “attached.” There “were no signs of fire or explosion,” writes Clark. The Coast Guard examiner was convinced that none of the crew had been aboard.
     According to some calculations, the Coast Guard searchers likely passed over the whaler several times without spotting it.

* * *
     Clark ends his story with the conclusion of two court hearings:
Ronald Caspers, Fred Harber, Caspers’ two sons, Erik and Kirk, Leonard Bashor, his nephew, Robert Bashor, and son-in-law, Richard Tully, Thomas Klein and his two brothers, Timothy and John, died at sea June 14, 1974, in the vicinity of the San Benito Islands, off the coast of Baja California. (LVSS)
John Klein and his daughters (not long before the Shooting Star disaster)
* * *
     THE COAST GUARD REPORT. I’ve looked over the Coast Guard report of the Shooting Star case. Below are some elements of that report that strike me as interesting.

* There’s a cover letter, dated 8/2/74, from J. M. Bowen, Commander, U.S. Coast Guard, Chief, Search and Rescue Branch TO an attorney in Ogden Utah (the Klein brothers were from that area). The letter explains the Coast Guard effort. It ends with this: “The names of the reported ten persons on board, including John and Tim Klein, were provided to the Coast Guard by Mr. Tom Fuentes, of Supervisor Ronald Casper’s [sic] Office.” It then provides Fuentes’ phone number.

* According to the Coast Guard report, the Shooting Star was constructed in 1947; it had a 340 hp diesel engine; it was 63 feet long and it had a wooden hull.

* The CG estimates that, at the time of the MAYDAY, the SS was “approximately fifty miles northwest of San Benito Island….”

* There’s a “record of missing.” Ronald Caspers is listed as living on Lido Isle, Newport Beach.

* All three Klein brothers are listed as living in Roy, Utah.

* “Weather on 13 June … in the area of San Benito Island … was overcast, visibility unknown; wind was fifteen to twenty-five knots, gusting to forty knots; seas and swells were running from the northwest at ten to fifteen feet….”

Roy, Utah, is in the Ogden area
* “The vessel Scandia, while anchored in the Gulf of Baja, Mexico, was attempting to contact KMI Oversees Radio when the distress call from the Shooting Star came over the air. The Scandia copied the message as “Mayday/Mayday, this is the Shooting Star, fifty miles south of Turtle Bay, sinking, nine people on board.” The Scandia then contacted KMI Radio and informed them that they had also heard the distress call. KMI acknowledged at that time but also stated that the position that the Scandia had copied was not the one that KMI had heard. KMI stated that the radio station had copied fifty miles out but could not hear anything else for the position. The Scandia stated that they heard fifty miles south of Turtle Bay.”

* “The two life jackets that were recovered from the debris were in a torn and semi-mutilated condition. The life jacket that was in the worst condition [difficult to read] was delivered to the Long Beach [illegible] criminology laboratory for testing of traces of blood or of any other substance. All tests and reports were negative. The life jacket check [ties?] were [tied?] at the time of recovery. One life jacket tie was tied in a bow and the other tie was tied in a knot. The lower straps on the jacket were clasped closed, although the straps were ripped, torn and/or severed. The body of the jackets were ripped and torn in several places with one [illegible] chest pad missing entirely from one of the life jackets. It is not known in what manner the life jackets were [stowed?] prior to the casualty. It is known that some of the life jackets were new and were stowed while still in the original plastic bags prior to the vessel’s departure from the United States.”

Tim Klein on the Shooting Star, La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico
* “The thirteen-foot Sea Witch (i.e., the Boston Whaler) that was recovered by the ... Nihon [i.e., the Swedish ship] was examined by the U.S. Air Force Investigators … This investigation revealed the following:
When the small boat was located, it was awash with [seas?] boarding the small craft over the stern. … The outboard motor, a 30-horsepower Evinrude, was still attached to the vessel but the controls, including the fuel lines, were all torn loose and adrift in the bottom of the vessel. There were no portable fuel tanks in the boat. … The Master of the Nihon stated that when the boat was recovered there were no signs of fire or explosion. … The investigator from the Canal Zone stated that it was his opinion that the craft did not contain any survivors prior to the time it was picked up by the Nihon. … Upon inspection of the debris when returned to the Coast Guard Base, Terminal Island, California, it was noted that the cradle which housed the small boats was undamaged. The crome padeyes that a nylon grip[e?] attached to were undamaged. There was no evidence of forcible separation of the small boats from the Shooting Star.” 
. . .
Shooting Star crewmen John and Tim Klein: proud Marines

* “The last insurance survey [after the near casualty in 1971] was conducted on the vessel Shooting Star on 17 March 1972…. Applicable sections pertaining to the condition of the hull of the vessel are quoted from the report:
     “Inspecting the vessel externally found topsides to be in fair condition… at this time we do not deem rework necessary.”
     “Inspecting the vessel internally in all accessible areas found structural members to be in fair condition with no apparent fractures noted….
     “…The vessel Shooting Star was hauled from the water at Windward Yacht and Repair, Inc., in Marina del Rey on 21 Sept. 1972 and … repair was accomplished…. Mr. G[illegible] stated that the vessel, to the best of his knowledge, was in good shape.”

CONCLUSIONS

     The Shooting Star sank … at about fifty miles northwest of San Benito Island…. This location was determined as the most probable position for the sinking by U.S. Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Center, Long Beach, CA.
     The exact cause of the sinking of the Shooting Star is unknown, although heavy weather may have been a contributing factor.
     The differences in the location as passed to KMI Overseas Radio and as overheard by the vessel Scandia cannot be positively resolved but it is felt that because of atmospheric conditions the words “south” and “but” were confused by either one of the involved parties. It cannot be determined which word is correct.

From the Coast Guard report
. . .
     It cannot be determined if the life jackets were or were not used by the persons on board the Shooting Star.
     It cannot be determined whether or not any persons were, at any time, in the thirteen-foot Sea Witch, nor can it be determined that the small craft was or was not forcibly removed from the Shooting Star.
     The cause of the damage to the life jackets and the small boat cannot be determined.
     The incident that occurred at Dana Point in July, 1971, did not contribute to this casualty.
     The work that was accomplished on the vessel after the survey … corrected all the deficiencies that were listed in the survey report….
     The deficiencies as listed in the survey of July, 1973, most probably were not contributory to this casualty.
     There is no evidence of foul play…. [For a brief discussion of Neal Graney's "murder" theory, see Part 1 of this series.]

RECOMMENDATIONS:

     It is recommended that no further action be taken and this case be closed with the submission of this report.

     L.P. Minott, Jr.


The Coast Guard's Venturous

2 comments:

  1. Thank you Sir for your interest in this sad story. I knew the Klein brothers well.I had the great fortune to grow up with them.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sad story. Have appreciated the coverage.

    ReplyDelete

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