Real Names: Peter Hanchett, Benjamin Kalama, Ralph Malaiakini, Scott Moorman and Patrick Woessner
Nicknames: Benny (Benjamin)
Location: Hana, Hawaii
Date: February 11, 1979
Occupation: Fisherman (Ralph)
Date of Birth: Unrevealed
Marital Status: Married (Benjamin)
Details: On February 11, 1979, five local men took the day off to go on a fishing trip in their seventeen-foot Boston whaler, the Sarah Joe, from the town of Hana, located on the southeast shore of the Hawaiian island Maui. The men on the trip were thirty-eight-year-old Benjamin Kalama, twenty-seven-year-old Ralph Malaiakini, twenty-seven-year-old Scott Moorman, twenty-six-year-old Patrick Woessner, and thirty-one-year-old Peter Hanchett. They had been friends for several years. Between them, they had over fifty years of sea-going experience. Ralph earned his living as a professional fisherman. They left the harbor at around 10 AM; the water was calm and it was a nice, clear day.
At 1 PM, a freak wind swept in from the mountains. It was the first warning that a storm was about to strike. The changing of the wind direction concerned Peter's father, John Hanchett Sr. He and several others went to the shoreline to try and spot the boat and wave the fishermen in. However, they were unable to see the Sarah Joe. Within hours, the storm arrived in the area. Strong winds and crashing waves came with it. John went out into the middle of the storm to search for the boat. After several hours, he went back to shore without finding any traces of them.
The next day, John returned to continue searching for the Sarah Joe. He was joined by marine biologist John Naughton; again, they came up empty. On the third day, Captain Jim Cushman of the Coast Guard continued the search for the Sarah Joe by helicopter and ship. The search expanded as the days passed. However, the searchers faced one major hurdle: the boat was the same color as the water that they were searching. Five days later, the search was officially suspended; a total of seventy-three thousand miles had been searched. No trace of the Sarah Joe or the five men was found.
During the following weeks, residents of Hana combed the nearby beaches, looking for the wreckage of the Sarah Joe. Finally, they gave up the search. However, they never gave up hope. To commemorate the tenth anniversary of the boat's disappearance, the family and friends of the missing sailors gathered on the pier where the five men departed. As time passed, it seemed as if memories were all that were left of the missing men and the Sarah Joe.
On September 9, 1988, the case of the Sarah Joe took a bizarre turn. On that day, John Naughton was on a wildlife expedition in the Marshall Islands, 2000 miles west of Maui. While near a deserted atoll called Taongi, he spotted a small boat that had washed onshore. Naughton and his crew landed on the atoll to examine the wreckage. They could see some of the registration numbers on the side of the boat which indicated that it had been registered in the Hawaiian Islands.
Approximately sixty yards from the wreckage, Naughton's crew discovered a makeshift grave. It included a pile of coral rocks and a crudely-made wooden cross. They also discovered a human jawbone protruding out of the pile of rocks. At the time, they were not certain if the gravesite was connected to the wrecked boat. The men found no evidence that the island was inhabited. Naughton recorded the registration numbers on the boat and left the site undisturbed.
The Coast Guard ran a check of the numbers and determined that the boat was the Sarah Joe. After the wreckage was identified, the nearby gravesite was excavated. A partial human skeleton was uncovered. Dental records determined that the remains belonged to one of the five missing men, Scott Moorman.
Another strange clue surfaced when unusual pieces of paper were discovered in the grave. These papers had been buried deliberately. The papers were in an unbound stack, 3/4 inches by 3/4 inches, alternated by slips of tin foil material between the pages. The Coast Guard has not been able to determine who placed the paper there or what purpose it served.
Experts agree that the Sarah Joe could have drifted the 2000 miles to the Marshall Islands. The voyage would have taken about three months. However, according to the brother of one of the missing men, a U.S. Government survey of Taongi in 1985 found no trace of the Sarah Joe. If this is true, then where was the Sarah Joe between its 1979 disappearance and the 1985 survey?
Many questions haunt the case of the Sarah Joe. The family and friends of the missing men hope that one day they will learn what really happened to their loved ones.
Suspects: None; foul play is not suspected in their disappearances.
The cryptic papers found with Scott's remains may be part of a Chinese burial ritual representing money and fortune in the next life. Known as Joss Paper, "Hell Money" or "Ghost Money," gold and silver foil such as the ones inside the papers also represent money or good fortune for the dead to bring with them into the next life.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the October 11, 1989 episode.
Results: Unresolved. The families of the missing men hired private investigator Steve Goodenow to look into the case. He took a team to Taongi and discovered a new "handful" of Scott Moorman's bones near the original grave. Drivers also found the boat's engines wedged underwater in nearby coral.
Given the narrow channel between the reefs and islands, it is unlikely the boat could have reached the Taongi lagoon without human interference. Goodenow hypothesized that Chinese fishermen found Scott's body and buried him; he further theorized that the fishermen did not report the incident since they had been fishing in the area illegally. Robert Malaiakini, brother of missing crew member Ralph Malaiakini, thinks that Scott tied himself to the boat to weather the storm; he doubts that anyone from the Sarah Joe could have survived the storm and 2,200-mile journey to Taongi.
Memorial plaques to commemorate the crew were installed on the Taongi atoll and in Hana Bay.
Sadly, Peter's father John has since passed away.
- The Crew of the Sarah Joe on Unsolved.com
- Adventurer Eulogized 10 Years After Being Lost in South Seas - November 6, 1988
- Anniversary of Hana's ill-fated Sarah Joe remembered - February 11, 2009
- Lost fishermen still cast shadow 30 years later - February 11, 2009
- Anniversary of Hana's Sarah Joe remembered - February 11, 2009
- Blog Concerning the Sarah Joe - November 27, 2013
- 40 years later, mystery still surrounds the Sarah Joe and its five Hana fishermen who didn't return - February 10, 2019
- Sarah Joe Memorial Regatta set for May 4-5 - April 7, 2019
- The Sarah Joe Mystery: Disappearance in the Pacific
- Peter Hanchett at Find a Grave