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Gainey's daughter missing at sea

Monday, 11.12.2006 / 12:00 AM / News
Montreal Canadiens
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Gainey\'s daughter missing at sea
HALIFAX (CP) - With hope fading, U.S. Coast Guard C-130 aircraft were scanning the darkened Atlantic early Monday with infrared cameras in an effort to find the daughter of Montreal Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey.

"We intend to go throughout the night and into tomorrow," said Petty Officer Donna Jefferson, adding the infrared vision is used to detect body heat in the ocean, allowing rescuers to continue their search after nightfall.

"Right now the plan is to re-evaluate it in morning to see what everyone thinks."

Family, friends and former crewmates of the young woman were struggling to contain anxiety and tears Sunday evening, after almost 45 hours of searching by U.S. Coast Guard planes, a civilian ship and the Picton Castle in the area 700 kilometres off of Cape Cod, Mass.

A U.S. Coast Guard news release estimated Sunday evening that search crews "have scoured" 2,400 square kilometres looking for Gainey.

Former crewmate Kimberly Helms recalled her first impressions of the curly-haired woman as she climbed aboard the tall ship last spring in Cape Town, South Africa.

"She's lovely, she was very cheerful. She was exceptionally enthusiastic about being on the ship," she said.

Helms said whenever Gainey walked by the ship's galley, she'd shout in to see if a hand was needed with kitchen work. Whenever one of about 50 other shipmates were on watch, she'd stop by for a chat.

The ship's website shows a photo of Gainey laughing in a colourful bikini. Another website set up by a newspaper photographer shows her cuddling the ship's cat, Chibley.

Her confidence and happiness was a sharp contrast from her earlier life.

In past articles about Bob Gainey, who spent 16 seasons with the Canadiens before becoming a coach and then general manager in the NHL, Laura has appeared as a troubled teenager.

In 1995 - the year Gainey's wife died of a malignant tumour - Laura was written about as a 14-year-old drug addict, who had to be sent to clinics to cope with what sports writer Red Fisher called a "mind bending culture of hash, marijuana, acid and speed."

Her recovery, and the fresh steps in the decade since, makes her loss all the more sad for her father and family, said Helms.

Dan Moreland, the senior captain of the Picton Castle, said from Lunenburg, N.S. that Gainey had become a "well-loved," enthusiastic volunteer on the vessel.

He described the situation as "completely devastating for everybody" on the vessel.

"She is hardworking, someone who wanted to turn her life around from earlier stuff. She was passionate about it, loved it and worked very hard," said Moreland. "She was no slouch."

Helms said she had just received a series of e-mails from her friend, ecstatic about being accepted on a fresh trip to the Caribbean as a volunteer crew member.

Her position as leading seaman entailed her taking a leadership position in the watches, and instructing the volunteer trainees.

It's unclear exactly what she was doing when a mid-Atlantic wave rushed over the covered rear deck where she was working.

Moreland said she wasn't wear a life-jacket, nor a line to secure her to the deck.

However, both he and Helms - a former paid crew member - said sometimes crew don't wear life-jackets because it would reduce their ability to move around.

"It seems this wave really filled up the decks," said Moreland. "There was a great deal of water on board, and as the ship shook it off, Laura got washed overboard.

"It could happen to any ship, to any captain, and from my point of view, it's the captain's greatest fear."

In a news release issued by the Montreal Canadiens, the club said "the thoughts and prayers of the entire Montreal Canadiens organization are with Mr. Gainey and his family."

Gainey was awaiting news on the search with his three other children Anna, Colleen and Steve. In the meantime, the club said that Pierre Gauthier, assistant general manager, will take over Gainey's responsibilities.

Maureen Newby, the missing woman's aunt, told CTV on Sunday afternoon that the family continued to hold out hope because her niece had substantial sailing experience.

"I think it's probably two or three that she's been on - big voyages with a tall ship, so she is experienced and a good swimmer and we're just hoping that she'll be found," Newby told CTV.

The ship planned to continue its voyage to the Caribbean following the search.

David Ostler, whose daughter is a crew member on the Picton Castle, said from his home in Brampton, Ont., that he believes finishing the voyage is the right thing to do.

"It's the safest thing to do. Coming back in the North Atlantic this time of year, the seas can be heavy," he said.

But he said the crew are likely disheartened by the incident.

"They would have set off from Lunenburg, N.S., a few days ago full of optimism and off on a great adventure, and now this would be a complete reversal of that mood," he said.