After nearly a month of searching, Mercer Island police recovered the bodies of two longtime friends in Lake Washington Monday afternoon who went missing Sept. 2, leaving behind an empty boat with their belongings on board.
The King County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed Tuesday evening that the bodies were of the missing boaters. James Le, 30, who lived in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood, and his friend of eight years, Vanna Nguyen, 33, of Burien both died of drowning, according to the office.
“We may never know the circumstances that led to it,” Mercer Island Police Cmdr. Jeff Magnan said.
The friends left Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park in Renton at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 2. Two hours later, someone called Mercer Island police to report a noise complaint and officers found the unoccupied, unanchored boat – with music blaring – about 100 yards off shore from the 7700 block of West Mercer Way, police said at the time. Police found Le and Nguyen’s cellphones and identifications cards on board.
The U.S. Coast Guard joined Mercer Island Police, the Seattle Police Department’s Harbor Unit and the King County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit in searching the lake for signs of the pair, but the Coast Guard called off its search the following evening.
Local authorities continued the search, Magnan said.
“Since they went missing, we’ve had a boat out there almost every single day,” Magnan said, with searchers scouring the waters south of where the boat, which Le had purchased with a friend in the summer, was located.
“Everything we had from the day of led us to the belief they were in the water, under the water,” he said. “It’s a big lake and without knowing exactly where they went in the water it made it very difficult to pinpoint where to begin searching. It’s best guess.”
For the past two weeks, operators from the Redmond-based Strategic Robotic Systems used their newest remote-operated vehicle — akin to an underwater drone — to search Lake Washington’s waters, which are 125 feet deep in spots, Magnan said. The remote-operated vehicle (ROV) is equipped with side-scan sonar and searched the lake bottom for irregularities, he explained.
Around 4:30 p.m. Monday, the ROV located two bodies 110 feet under the water’s surface, about a half-mile from where Le’s boat was located and just south of the original search zone, Magnan said. The ROV was able to bring the bodies to the surface, he said.
He explained that the water’s depth exerted pressure on the bodies, keeping them held down, while the water’s temperature — a frigid 38 degrees Fahrenheit — kept them from decomposing and floating to the surface.