On Monday, March 4, 2024, a jury officially declared two teenagers from Sitka presumed dead following their disappearance in a tragic boating accident earlier in the winter. The court heard detailed accounts from the Sitka Dive Rescue team and the US Coast Guard, which illuminated the extensive but ultimately unsuccessful recovery operations for the two young men, Darren Borbridge and Sayer Tuzon. These individuals were part of a group of five returning from a hunting trip on Chichagof Island when their boat capsized in the turbulent waters of Khaz Bay on January 9, 2024.

A rescue effort that evening by the Coast Guard, involving a helicopter from Air Station Sitka and a rescue swimmer, managed to save three survivors from the overturned boat as night fell. Despite these heroic efforts, Borbridge and Tuzon were not found until the following day when the Sitka Dive Rescue team located their bodies inside the vessel’s cabin with a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV). However, challenging weather conditions prevented the recovery of their bodies.

The testimony revealed the complexity and dangers of marine rescue operations, especially under adverse weather conditions. Aaron Dupuis, the Dive Rescue Captain, highlighted the limitations faced by the rescue team in securing the capsized vessel, necessitating the assistance of a professional salvage team. The subsequent involvement of the Coast Guard cutters Kukui and Douglas Denman aimed to secure and track the boat, but it eventually drifted out of reach and was last sighted 22 miles west of Salisbury Sound, never to be found again despite an extensive search covering 447 square miles.

The declaration of presumptive death marks a somber legal conclusion to the lives of Tuzon and Borbridge, deeply felt by the Sitka community. Tuzon was a high school senior, and Borbridge was soon to be a father, milestones they will never achieve. The trial provided not only legal closure but also an opportunity for friends and family to come together in grief and remembrance for the young lives lost to the sea.

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