Jimmy Cung Nguyen was such a rollicking presence at a weekly Raleigh poker game that even when he didn't show, someone would often shout the greeting that signaled his arrival.
"Jimm-ahyy!" they'd yell, and everyone's mood would lift, even if they were already happy.
Nguyen, though, is missing at sea now, along with his friend Kim Nguyen of Morehead City. When Jimmy's buddies convened for the game Friday night, no one yelled his name.
"You can't imagine someone so full of energy and life not living anymore," said Darrell Ludlow, who had played cards and socialized with Nguyen for three years. "It's just a bad dream."
The two men disappeared 30 miles off Atlantic Beach on May 10. Six days ago, the Coast Guard called off its search for them, but Kim Nguyen's family is still conducting its own hunt. Last week, family members chartered boats, a helicopter and an airplane. Now they are using just a borrowed boat every day, but they aren't giving up anytime soon, said Kim Nguyen's sister, Van Tran of Jacksonville.
There were three men on the 31-foot boat Nutty Buddy when it began filling with water and capsized. Kim Nguyen's brother Bao, the owner of the Fountain sport fishing boat, survived after a full day and night clinging to a few feet of the bow, which was all that was floating above the surface. He was pulled out of the water, suffering from severe hypothermia and dehydration, by the crew of a passing fishing boat.
Bao Nguyen was released from the hospital Sunday and appears well, Tran said.
Bao Nguyen, who lives in New Bern, told his family and Coast Guard officers that the other two men hadn't been able to hold on to the small part of the boat floating above water, and they had drifted off. Both were reported to be wearing life preservers, a spokesman for the Coast Guard said last week.
Family in Vietnam
Jimmy Nguyen has few family members in the United States, other than his brother, Hoa Nguyen, who lives in Raleigh.
Hoa Nguyen, who speaks only limited English, said Monday that his brother had a wife and young son in Vietnam and had hoped to bring them here this summer.
Hoa Nguyen said his brother had worked at Accu-Fab, Inc., a large Raleigh metal fabrication company. He also had worked two days a week in summer doing nails at Queen Nails and Spa onDuraleigh Road.
Jimmy Nguyen had long wanted to bring his family to North Carolina, Ludlow said. The poker games weren't for serious stakes, and Nguyen wasn't interested in gambling so much as he was in socializing, at which he excelled.
During games, Nguyen would often utter a gleeful exclamation, some combination of words that the players would forever link with him, Ludlow said. Phrases like "Riiiiiide the Buuuussss!" and "River Kill You!"
A couple of times at Friday night's game, Ludlow quietly said a few of Jimmy's phrases.
He's sure Jimmy is gone. Tran, though, said her family won't yet concede the men are dead.
The family had been searching the waters south of the area where they went missing, but has now changed its strategy and started to look north, toward Cape Hatteras, Tran said. They will keep looking until at least Friday, she said.
"We're still searching, and we still have hope," Tran said. "Maybe an international ship picked them up or something, I don't know. But we still need people's help, so tell them if they see anything out there to please call the Coast Guard."
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