JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska fishing adventure became a nightmare for a family of eight when disaster struck one of the two boats they chartered over the Memorial Day weekend, leaving three people dead and two more missing despite a desperate search over hundreds of square miles of ocean.
The tragedy tore the Tyau family apart: Two sisters and one of their husbands are dead, while the other’s partner and the boat captain remain missing off southeast Alaska four days after the boat was found partially submerged off an island.
Authorities suspended a more than 20-hour search covering 825 square miles (2,100 square kilometers) on Monday and have no plans to resume it.
The women’s parents, older brother, and sister-in-law were on the other charter boat as part of a three-day trip to a destination fishery known for king salmon and groundfish.
The sisters and their sister-in-law didn’t like fishing but joined the vacation to spend more time with a family that was usually split between Hawaii and Los Angeles.
“It was just supposed to be a simple family get-together for eight of us, since we haven’t been together in the same spot for so long,” Michael Tyau, the older brother, told The Associated Press on Thursday. “For it to turn out like this is really devastating.”
The Tyau siblings — Michael, Brandi and Danielle — grew up fishing in Hawaii with their parents. Michael Tyau said his sisters hated being cold and wet but would endure it for their water-loving parents and later their partners.
Brandi Tyau’s longtime partner, Robert Solis — a Navy diver-turned-private investigator who was stationed in Hawaii when they met decades ago — was someone for whom “ the ocean really was his life,” one of Solis’ brothers said.
So when the Tyau siblings’ mother suggested a family trip last year, a fishing vacation in the Sitka Sound won out.
“My sisters, I think, reluctantly agreed,” Michael Tyau said.
He and his wife flew from Los Angeles to Alaska on Thursday with Brandi Tyau, 56, and Solis, 61. They met up with their parents, sister Danielle Agcaoili, 53, and her husband, 57-year-old Maury Agcaoili, all Hawaii residents.
The whole family stayed in a lodge owned by charter boat company Kingfisher Charters in Sitka. The small port city with a backdrop of a stunning volcanic mountain is located on the shore of Baranof Island, which is part of a cluster of islands dripping off Alaska’s southeast coastline.
The area is a “premier fishing destination” because the many bays and passageways created by the islands provide protection from the wind and waves on days when the open sea is too rough, Kingfisher Charters says on its website.
Forrest Braden, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization, said anglers often stay for multiple days on trips to the region.
“It’s more of a fishing-themed trip for a lot of people, rather than being one of a variety of activities that they do,” he said.
The boats the Tyau clan chartered, named the Pockets and the Awakin, set out Friday amid rough conditions. Michael Tyau said his sisters and wife spent the day’s voyage seasick in the two boats’ cabins and skipped Saturday’s trip to recover on land.
When Sunday dawned, their last vacation day before Monday flights home, the women rejoined the boats.
Danielle Agcaoili said “she didn’t want to let anybody down,” Michael Tyau recalled through tears.
The boat captains opted for different fishing spots. Aboard the Pockets, Michael Tyau said he “in no way felt in jeopardy, like this wasn’t safe for us to fish in.”
The Pockets returned to the lodge Sunday evening, but the family began worrying when Brandi Tyau, Danielle Agcaoili, Maury Agcaoili and Solis didn’t respond to text messages and never arrived for dinner.
The Awakin hadn’t come back, the charter company told Michael Tyau, and they lost radio contact with the captain, 32-year-old Morgan Robidou.
What happened aboard the Awakin on Sunday remains unclear. Efforts to recover the 30-foot (9-meter) aluminum vessel have been hampered by rough seas and strong winds.
The bodies of Brandi Tyau and Danielle Agcaoili were found inside the cabin. Maury Agcaoili’s body was discovered near the boat. Solis and Robidou were still considered missing Thursday.
The boat was last seen Sunday afternoon near Sitka, authorities said, but around 7 p.m. Sunday was found partially submerged off Low Island, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) west of Sitka.
Coast Guard investigators are working to determine the timeline and cause of the incident. The area was experiencing 6-foot to 11-foot (1.8- to 3.35-meter) waves, a Coast Guard spokesperson said.
Robidou was “the nicest, quietest, friendliest young fellow you’ve ever seen,” said Thad Poulson, editor of the Daily Sitka Sentinel newspaper where Robidou once worked as a press operator. The two had not seen each other in some time but “we formed a great friendship with him when he was here.”
“Official boat owner,” Robidou had posted on Facebook last October, along with a photo with the boat he said he had named Awakin.
Kingfisher Charters has declined to respond to questions outside a statement released Wednesday saying the company is “devastated by the loss of the guests and captain of the Awakin” and is fully cooperating with an investigation it hopes “furnishes answers to the questions as to how it occurred.”
For the Tyau family, it’s too late. The deaths of Brandi Tyau, the reserved middle child who was a calming influence on Solis, and Danielle Agcaoili, the happy-go-lucky baby of the family who was often called “Dani,” has been devastating.
Brandi Tyau and Solis leave behind one son together, as well as Solis’ three sons from a previous relationship. The Agcaoilis have two children, one of whom just graduated from high school.
The family’s vacation was meant for them to enjoy a holiday weekend away and bridge the gap between their homes in Hawaii and Los Angeles.
“I don’t think all eight of us have been together in over 10 years,” Michael Tyau said.
Now, only four are left.