Laura Gainey swept off ship bound for Caribbean

12/11/2006 - Montreal Canadiens

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia -- Hope faded Monday for finding the daughter of hockey great Bob Gainey after she was washed overboard in the Atlantic during a storm while working on a sailing ship bound for the Caribbean.

The search for Laura Gainey was slowly winding down three days after a wave swept her off the Picton Castle. A Canadian C-130 Hercules joined the search for Gainey on Monday afternoon, relieving an American plane that had been scouring the ocean.

"The search can't go on indefinitely," said Petty Officer Larry Chambers, spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard station in Portsmouth, Va. "It's one of the toughest decisions a Coast Guard search and rescue coordinator has to make, but there comes a time where the reasonable search is over with."

The 25-year-old daughter of the Montreal Canadiens' general manager was thrown from the 180-foot boat Friday night without a lifejacket. She was about 475 miles southeast of Cape Cod, Mass.

The water temperature in that part of the mid-Atlantic is about 68 degrees. The U.S. Coast Guard said Gainey, a strong swimmer wearing protective clothing, could probably survive for about 36 hours. However, Chambers said, after 70 hours in the water "the likelihood of survivability" would "diminish rapidly."

Matthew Brooks, a civilian search and rescue specialist with the U.S. Coast Guard, said U.S. air rescuers used infrared night-vision goggles to search the dark waters late Sunday. American and Canadian search aircraft later dropped data buoys in the area.

"They talk to us via satellite, and they send us positions on the hour," Brooks said. "This is the best way to tell us how the water is moving."

Less than two weeks ago, the tall ship set sail from Lunenburg for a six-month tour that would take it to the Caribbean. Gainey was a member of the crew, with responsibility for certain watches and instruction of volunteer trainees.

The ship's senior captain read a statement on behalf of the crew.

"They are tired and, like us, they are devastated," said Daniel Moreland, who was in the ship's home port of Lunenburg when Gainey was reported missing. "But they soldier on. They have a job to do. So do we."

Canadiens assistant general manager Pierre Gauthier is handling Gainey's duties during his absence. Gauthier, team president Pierre Boivin and other club officials visited the dressing room Monday before practice to update the players.

"Everyone's in a state of shock now," said coach Guy Carbonneau, whose team hosts Boston on Tuesday night. "But the best thing for us to do now is to hope for a miracle and keep winning. I think that's what Bob wants."

Carbonneau, who played with Gainey in the 1980s and later played for him in Dallas, knew about the disappearance Saturday morning. He chose not to tell his players before or after their 3-2 shootout loss to Buffalo that night.

"I didn't want to distract the players," Carbonneau said. "I could have told them after the game, but I wasn't comfortable with that. Bob is a very private and discreet person. The name hadn't been released and Bob wanted that it not be known for as long as possible."

A member of the hockey Hall of Fame, Gainey won five Stanley Cups with Montreal during a 16-year career as a forward from 1973-89. He also won a championship as general manager of the Dallas Stars in 1999. His wife, Cathy, died of brain cancer in 1995 at 39.

Carbonneau has been in daily phone contact with Gainey. He said the GM was concerned about the team, but Carbonneau urged him to set that aside.

"That's the worst thing for a parent -- to lose a child, no matter what the age," he said. "For sure, he was in a state of shock, but he's still strong mentally. Even today [Monday], he was as solid as he was Saturday morning when he called. He's still hoping like everyone else."