I met my brother Phil Sollecito in Panama for a week of exciting salt-water fishing action at the famous Tropic Star Lodge, approximately 48 miles south of the Pearl Islands, where three seasons of the "Survivor" television series were filmed. I had no idea we would become part of a real life survivor series ourselves.
We left the dock in a 31' Bertram at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday March 4 with a seasoned captain and crew. We wanted to build upon our earlier success on the water when our catches included a near 400-pound Black Marlin, nearly 65-pound Yellowfin Tuna, African Pompano, Roosterfish, Broomtail Grouper and a more than 70-pound African Pompano. I was also looking for a Fly Rod World Record on a six-pound test line for Pacific sailfish.
We watched as two pangas (small boats) from the nearby Indian villages of Jaque' and Pinas also shared the waterway. In this seafaring part of Panama, the Darien Region, the sea provides the transportation of most goods and services. No roads make it here through the jungle, where the original US Astronauts trained before the initial space missions in the early 1960s.
The day was a good one, but different. I boated a 375-pound Black Marlin and had shots at several sailfish. The fish were seen on the surface, but tentative. The seas were building, as the heavy Trade Winds from the north were making their presence known in full force.
Winds reaching 45 knots created turbulent seas and an overloaded 26-foot panga about three miles off shore took a huge wave. The panga was transporting a youth soccer team and other children to a match three hours away. The captain of the panga ordered most of the 27 passengers, many of them children, out of the boat, so the few remaining could bail water. Then another wave swamped the boat and it sank into the 80-foot deep ocean with only 11 passengers making it to shore. There was no evidence of any life jackets.