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Police: US couple whose boat was hijacked were likely thrown overboard and died

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — An older U.S. couple whose catamaran was hijacked last week in the Caribbean by three escaped prisoners were likely thrown into the ocean and died, police in Grenada said Monday.

The announcement is a blow to those who were independently helping search for Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel and had hoped they were still alive.

Don McKenzie, police commissioner of the Royal Grenada Police Force, said at a news conference that the three prisoners escaped on Feb. 18 from the South Saint George Police Station. They hijacked the catamaran “Simplicity” on Feb. 19 and headed to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where they were arrested last Wednesday, he said.

“Information suggests that while traveling between Grenada and St Vincent, they disposed of the occupants,” McKenzie said.

When pressed for details, he said, “We have nothing conclusive to say that the individuals are dead. We still hold out hope that in spite (of) what might be a low probability, that they would turn up alive somewhere.”

He noted that he was “quite limited” with what he could share with the public regarding the case because the investigation is ongoing, and because Grenadian authorities still don’t have much information.

“The information I possess is limited and can be considered second-hand as I have had very limited discussions regarding the details of the investigation with my Vincentian counterpart,” McKenzie said.

St. Vincent police could not be immediately reached for comment.

The nonprofit Salty Dawg Sailing Association said Hendry and Brandel were “veteran cruisers” and longtime members of the association, calling them “warm-hearted and capable.”

It said the couple had sailed the yacht in last year’s Caribbean Rally from Hampton, Virginia, to Antigua, and were spending the winter cruising in the eastern Caribbean.

A son of Hendry and a son of Brandel did not immediately return messages for comment.

A GoFundMe page created to raise money for the couple’s family noted that Brandel had recently become a first-time grandmother, and that the sailing community was “shattered” by what happened.

“Kathy and Ralph, experienced adventurers, spent their retirement sailing aboard Simplicity, spending summers in New England and embracing the warmth of Caribbean winters,” the page stated.

McKenzie, Grenada’s police commissioner, said a five-person team was sent to St. Vincent to help with the investigation.

After his brief announcement on Monday, McKenzie and other police officials took questions from local media, including one reporter who asked, “Who is really to be blamed for this massive failure to keep these prisoners under the control of the (Royal Grenada Police Force) which has now resulted in this tragedy?”

McKenzie said police have launched an investigation into the escape and are looking into whether it was “a system failure” or a case of a “slip up.”

“All aspects of that investigation are on the table,” he said, adding that the police holding station where the three men were being held has “sufficient safety to prevent an incident like that (from) occurring.”

When the reporter asked why the three men who were arrested remained in a holding cell instead of prison, Vannie Curwen, assistant police commissioner, said the men first had to see a magistrate who would decide whether to grant bail or order them remanded.

The escaped prisoners, ages 19, 25 and 30, were charged a couple of months ago with one count of robbery with violence. The eldest inmate also was charged with one count of rape, three counts of attempted rape and two counts of indecent assault and causing harm, police in Grenada said.

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