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April 4, 2005

Search ends for man lost off NC coast

From: Myrtle Beach Sun News, SC - Apr 4, 2005

Family, friends mourn boater

By Johanna D. Wilson
The Sun News

Jack Brown wanted to tell his church family about his dearly loved brother, but the tears were just too much Sunday.

"He had a natural ability of making people laugh," said Brown, 41. "It was unbelievable. He couldn't speak a word, but he could make motions, signs and gestures that would crack people up."

Losing Johnny Wayne Brown is tough for Jack and other family members and friends who are mourning the man who could not talk but managed to communicate volumes.

Johnny Wayne Brown, a 38-year-old Conway commercial fisherman and a deaf-mute, was never found by Coast Guard officials in North Carolina after a nearly 26-hour search that begin around 2 p.m. Saturday.

"This is so unfortunate because we don't ever want to tell a family we have to suspend searching because we always would like to be able to search forever," said Krys Hannum, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard, who is based in Portsmouth, Va. "The other two gentlemen were so lucky."

Brown, his brother-in-law and another man were tossed into the ocean after a 30- to 40-foot wave toppled the 50-foot boat they were using to catch grouper and snapper, family members and Coast Guard officials said.

The wave, which an N.C. meteorologist thinks was a rogue wave, swallowed the boat, called The Tracy Lynn, about 9 a.m. Saturday.

"It's like what folks saw in the movie, 'The Perfect Storm,'" said Tim Armstrong, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C. "You have all these waves traveling in different directions in the middle of the ocean.

"And occasionally the waves will phase together for a few seconds and create one wave. So a 20-foot wave and another 20-foot wave would make a 40-foot wave," Armstrong said.

Armstrong said a strong cold front, probably the most intensive this year, moved across the area Saturday. A gail warning told people to expect winds higher than 40 miles per hour across coastal waters.

Brown, his brother-in-law, Tony Bessent, and Gary McCombs were about 50 miles off shore from Cape Fear, N.C., when the wave hit, Coast Guard officials and family members said.

Bessent was rescued about 2 p.m. by a Greek container ship called the Sophia Brittania heading to Norfolk, Va., and McCombs was rescued shortly after by a Coast Guard helicopter out of Elizabeth City, N.C.

Bessent was in good condition and was not transported to a hospital. McCombs was in stable condition Sunday at New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, N.C.

If he could have fought the tears Sunday at Pauley Swamp Baptist Church in Conway, Jack Brown said he would have offered dozens of reasons he loved his brother.

"People who had never used sign language in their life could sit down and talk to Johnny," he said.

On June 11, Johnny Wayne Brown was to marry in Conway at Laura Abernathy's house.

At 18 months old, he contracted spinal meningitis and a high fever damaged the nerves in his ears, Abernathy, his sister, said.

A graduate of the S.C. School for the Deaf and Blind in Spartanburg, he began fishing with Bessent while in high school.

"I was always told Johnny was the best fisherman," Abernathy said. Contact JOHANNA D. WILSON at or 626-0324.

© 2005 The Sun News and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.