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Associated Press
Dec 12, 2006, 1:30 PM EST


MONTREAL (AP) -Bob Gainey's family thanked rescuers Tuesday for their efforts in trying to find "our darling Laura," the daughter of the Montreal Canadiens great who was swept overboard during an Atlantic storm four days ago while working on a sailing ship.

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its aerial search for Laura Gainey on Monday night, a decision that all but extinguished hopes the 25-year-old woman would be found alive.

She was on the deck of the tall ship Picton Castle on Friday night when a large wave tossed her into the ocean without a lifejacket about 475 miles southeast of Cape Cod.

The water temperature in that part of the Atlantic is about 68 degrees. The U.S. Coast Guard said Gainey, a strong swimmer wearing protective clothing, probably could survive for about 36 hours.

Bob Gainey, a hockey Hall of Famer and general manager of the Canadiens, and children Anna, Stephen and Colleen made their first public comments since the disappearance.

"We wish to sincerely thank all the people who have been involved in the search for our darling Laura," according to a statement released by the team. "Their extensive efforts and their tremendous support throughout this ordeal will never be forgotten."

He also praised the U.S. Coast Guard and the Canadian Forces' Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for their "extraordinary efforts," as well as the Picton Castle crew and the merchant ships that volunteered.

Bob Gainey handed over his duties as general manager to assistant Pierre Gauthier to be with his family during the search.

Less than two weeks ago, the ship set sail from Nova Scotia for a six-month tour that would take it to the Caribbean. Gainey, a crew member, was responsible for certain watches and instruction of volunteer trainees.

Canadiens owner George Gillett Jr. and club president Pierre Boivin acknowledged the outpouring of support and "countless testimonials."

"These tributes will inspire us as we support Bob and his family through these trying times," Boivin said.

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