Chinese fishermen airlifted to San Diego burn unit

Fishing vessel caught fire, sank off Baja

Two badly burned Chinese fishermen rescued from the Pacific were being treated Tuesday at a San Diego hospital, three days after a Venezuelan fishing boat spotted them and nine of their crew members floating in a life raft more than 1,000 miles off Mexico.
 
The men were being treated for burns at the University of California, San Diego, regional burn unit -- less than 24 hours after Air Force rescuers hoisted them off the Venezuelan boat and airlifted them to California, said Maj. Sarah Schwennesen of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. 
 
She said she had no information on their condition. UCSD hospital officials said they could not release any details until they got the men's permission. 
 
The two were among 17 crew members believed aboard a Chinese fishing vessel that caught fire and sank about 1,100 miles off Mexico's Baja peninsula. Two men died, six are missing and seven others were rescued in good condition.
 
The Venezuelan fishing boat spotted the lifeboat carrying 11 Chinese crew members -- including two who later died -- and called for help Friday. 
 
Responding to the call, airmen from the Air Force's 563rd Rescue Group parachuted into the water Saturday afternoon and used inflatable boats to reach the Venezuelan vessel.
 
Rescuers stabilized the burn victims before putting each into metal baskets that were connected to two helicopters by a steel cable.
 
Crews wrenched the baskets up to the flying aircraft and rescuers loaded them on to the helicopters that flew to the closest Mexican city, Cabo San Lucas, where they were put on an aircraft and flown to a Naval Station North Island in San Diego. They arrived around 7:30 p.m. Monday and were taken by ambulance to the hospital, Schwennesen said.
 
Pilots flew for nine hours over the Pacific Ocean to recover the fishermen.
 
Officials say they still do not know what happened on the Chinese boat to cause the fire. It sank out at sea.
 
The two bodies of the fishermen who died and seven others in good condition were put on a Chinese-flagged vessel to be taken to China.
 
Language barriers have hampered communication between the crew members of the boats and U.S. officials, slowing new details on what happened out at sea, Schwennesen said.
 
The officials said neither of their branches was searching for the six fishermen believed to be missing, and they did not know who else would be looking.
 
It was the second such dramatic sea rescue off the Baja coast in recent weeks.
 
Last month, three U.S. federal agencies, a fixed-wing aircraft, a Navy warship and scores of personnel successfully rescued an ill American baby girl and her family from their broken down sailboat 900 miles off Cabo San Lucas.
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