Thursday, June 30, 2022
June 30, 2022

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2 friends still missing after empty boat found off Mercer Island with phones, IDs onboard


SEATTLE — Vanna Nguyen and James Le spent Monday biking around West Seattle’s Alki neighborhood, then decided to take out the 20-foot boat Le bought with a friend this summer for an evening cruise on Lake Washington.

The longtime friends left Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park in Renton at 8:30 p.m. Two hours later, someone called Mercer Island police to report a noise complaint and officers found the unoccupied boat – with music blaring – about 100 yards off shore from the 7700 block of West Mercer Way.

An extensive search found no trace of Nguyen, a 33-year-old Burien resident, or Le, 30, who lives in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood. Police said they didn’t find evidence of foul play or of anyone else having been onboard. Officers did find Nguyen’s and Le’s cellphones and identification cards on the boat and located Le’s truck and boat trailer at the park in Renton.

Mercer Island Police, the Seattle Police Department’s Harbor Unit and the U.S. Coast Guard searched the lake, using boats with sonar equipment and a rescue helicopter. The Coast Guard suspended the search at 6:06 p.m. Tuesday.

“The challenges to the scenario is we don’t know what happened,” Petty Officer Michael Clark, a Coast Guard spokesman, said Friday. Though searchers operated as if Nguyen and Le were in the water, there were no witnesses to confirm they had gone overboard, he said.

“We’re bracing for the worst – we know the odds,” said Le’s older sister, Ngoc Le. But since no bodies have been found, “we’re still hopeful. We have a feeling they may still be alive,” she said.

A vigil is planned for 7 p.m. Saturday at Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park, 1201 Lake Washington Blvd. N., near the public docks.

The two families – who have seen an Instagram story posted by Nguyen as she and Le were leaving the dock – are asking people who were on or around the lake Monday night to scour their photos and videos for images of the pair and to keep an eye out for them, both on the water and on land.

In her Instagram post, Nguyen was wearing white sneakers, a white T-shirt and denim jeans; Le was wearing a long sleeve black T-shirt and his favorite hat, Ngoc Le said. Neither was wearing a life jacket, she said.

She said her brother is a responsible and conscientious guy who takes safety seriously. He is an experienced boater who only plays loud music when he’s piloting the vessel, his sister said. Nguyen, she said, didn’t know how to swim and always clung to a pink pool noodle any time she was on board.

“We don’t know what happened in that two-hour time frame, but we know they didn’t jump in the water” for a swim, said Ngoc Le.

“If Vanna fell overboard and James tried to save her, he would’ve taken off his favorite hat and thrown the flotation devices into the water. He’s not a new boater,” she said.

His hat wasn’t found on the boat, but Nguyen’s pink pool noodle was, she said. All the flotation devices were still onboard, but there weren’t any towels or extra clothing. Two beers had been cracked open, but they were full, according to Ngoc Le.

“The engine was off but the beacon lights were on. It was very calm water and only 4 mph winds,” she said.

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