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Coast Guard searching for four missing in sailboat off California

By Ronnie Cohen

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The Coast Guard was searching the rough waters off Northern California on Monday for two adults and two young children believed missing after they sent a distress call that their sailboat was in trouble.

The 29-foot craft was in frigid waters south of San Francisco, roughly 68 miles off the coast, when a crew member first radioed late on Sunday afternoon that the vessel was taking on water and sinking, the Coast Guard said.

"He sounded relatively calm considering the fact that they were taking on water and they had the children on board. Panic hadn't set in. He had contacted the Coast Guard several times and each time we learned a little bit more about the situation," Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer Pamela Boehland told CNN.

A little more than an hour after the first call, the vessel operator reported that the four people aboard the boat were abandoning the craft, and the Coast Guard lost radio communications with them.

"The weather was pretty rough yesterday as it most always is in the Pacific. It's always rough and always cold. And they started taking on water," Boehland said. "Eventually, the water became too much for them and their electronics failed, their GPS failed, and they decided it was best to abandon ship."

The Coast Guard said in a statement late on Sunday that the four people from the missing vessel, possibly named the Charmblow, might have made it into a makeshift life raft. But their fate remained uncertain.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the boat operator told the Coast Guard the sailors planned to use a makeshift life raft fashioned out of a cooler and a life-preserver ring as a flotation device until they could be rescued from the water.

The Chronicle identified those believed to be on board the boat as a man, woman, their 4-year-old son and his cousin under age 8. The boat had no life raft or electronic-positioning beacon, and it was unclear whether the passengers were wearing life vests, according to the Chronicle.

The Coast Guard initially said the vessel was sinking off Pillar Point, at the northern end of Half Moon Bay south of San Francisco, but later reassessed the location south to near Monterey, the Chronicle said.

Coast Guard officials did not immediately respond to queries about the status of the search on Monday morning. As of Sunday night, aircraft and sea vessels had already conducted several searches of the area without success, and additional Coast Guard resources were to join in the operation, the agency had said.

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Pravin Char, Cynthia Johnston and Richard Chang)

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