Family of Americans missing at sea hire private firm to continue search

(CBS News) Americans are among a group of experienced sailors missing in the South Pacific. They disappeared nearly two months ago. Now, the families of the missing have reached out to a private firm for help in the search.

The sailors shared a love of the sea, boarding an 85-year-old schooner, "The Nina," for an Australian adventure back in May. Six Americans and a British passenger were aboard, ranging in age from 17 to 73. Among the crew were Lafayette, La., couple Ricky and Robin Wright's only daughter, Danielle.

The 19-year-old college student met up with her shipmates at a port in New Zealand on May 29 for a 12-day journey across the Tasman Sea to Newcastle, Australia - 1,000 miles away.

Around June 4, the crew reported hitting bad weather and sent what was believed to be their last communication: "The weather's turned nasty, how do we get away from it?"

A meteorologist advised them to steer south, but to stay prepared for more bad weather. The Nina was not heard from again.

That meteorologist, Bob McDavitt, never sensed panic when he spoke to 73-year-old Evi Nemeth. McDavitt said, "They were concerned but they weren't in trouble, they were in control."

Nemeth's friend, Barb Djiker, said, "she's unflappable in any kind of situation that would have other people in a panic."

It wasn't until June 25 -- three weeks later -- that New Zealand rescue teams put planes in the air searching a vast area of ocean. On July 4, the New Zealand coast guard called off the search.

But now many believe The Nina may have been far from the original search site. Nemeth's son, Lazslo Nemeth, spoke to CBS News in an online interview from New Zealand. He said, "The original information that New Zealand RCC had placed the vessel further east than it actually was."

It was inaccurate information because officials discovered an ominous text an entire month after the crew went missing, sent from the boat, but never received.

The message read "sails shredded last night, now bare poles. Going four (knots) 310 (degrees) will update course info at *6pm."

Robin Wright said, "We think they're out there, we just have to find them."

The Wrights and other families believe the missing crew is still alive. They've hired the private Texas firm Equusearch to find out what happened.

Danielle's neighbors have tied blue ribbons around their mailboxes, holding out hope for her safe journey home.

Watch Manuel Bojorquez's full report above.

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