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Coast Guard ends search for crew of El Faro believed sunk by Hurricane Joaquin

The cargo ship El Faro in an undated

The cargo ship El Faro in an undated photo. Credit: AP / TOTE Maritime

The U.S. Coast Guard ended at sunset Wednesday its search for the crew of the cargo ship El Faro, which sank a week ago off the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin.

"Any decision to suspend a search is painful," Coast Guard Capt. Mark Fedor said at a news conference in Jacksonville, Florida, where the doomed container ship left for Puerto Rico on Sept. 29.

Over the course of the more than six-day search, hurricane spotter airplanes, C-130s, Coast Guard cutters, tugboats, commercial ships in the region and a Navy plane that scans wide swaths of ocean scoured the seas, searching for the 33 crew members.

"I know that the Coast Guard along with our brethren in the Navy and Air Force as well as the commercial tugboats that were out there helping us did all that they could . . . ," Foder said. "I hope the families can take some small measure of peace from that."

The crew was composed of five Polish and 28 U.S. mariners, including four with ties to Long Island, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Among them was Howard "Howie" Schoenly, 50, of Cape Coral, Florida, who grew up in East Rockaway and had been a merchant mariner for 25 years. His brother, Steven, of Freeport, said the news was tough to hear but expected.

"I hope that now people can finally get closure, not to give up hope but to start the grieving process," Steven Schoenly said.

Howard Schoenly graduated in 1984 from East Rockaway Junior Senior High School and had been married to his wife, Karen, for 20 years.

"If it was anybody that would make it through this storm, it would be him," said Michaelene Abbott-Cooper, who grew up with the brothers and planned a vigil set for Thursday night. "I think the lost part of it is the hardest part."

The vigil -- on Howard Schoenly's 51st birthday -- will be at 7:30 p.m. at the Main Street waterfront across from the East Rockaway Post Office.

Crew member Steven Shultz, who also calls Cape Coral home, graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point in 1984 with a bachelor's in marine transportation.

Richard Pusatere, a 2003 marine engineering graduate of SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx, is on the crew.

Mitchell Kuflik of Brooklyn also is listed as a crew member. His Facebook page says he is from Mystic, Connecticut, and went to Maine Maritime Academy.

The 790-foot El Faro was last heard from Oct. 1 when the crew reported it had lost propulsion and was listing 15 degrees. The Coast Guard said Monday the ship probably sank that day in Joaquin's Category 4 winds and waves.

The National Transportation Safety Board is doing interviews, reviewing paperwork and analyzing safety records, NTSB vice chair Bella Dinh-Zarr said. They are also working to recover the ship's voyage data recorder -- similar to an airplane's black box.

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