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A riptide off the central Mexican coast pulled under a Twin Cities man as his wife watched from shore, turning an idyllic winter getaway into "a horror story," the man's brother said Thursday.

Mark Stoneberg, 58, of Robbinsdale, and his wife, Nancy, were vacationing in the Pacific resort town of Sayulita, when he was overwhelmed Tuesday by the late-afternoon riptide while bodysurfing with a friend. He has yet to be found, said brother Mike Stoneberg.

"She watched him go out to sea," Mike Stoneberg said.

With two children grown having moved out of the house and one more about to do the same, the Stonebergs were "getting away for the winter" and looking forward to starting the next stage of their 26-year marriage. They had been to the ocean in Mexico many times before.

"Then it turned into a horror story," the brother said.

Nancy Stoneberg said the search north of Puerto Vallarta didn't really start until 24 hours later, leaving the family fearing the worst for the onetime bodybuilder and 40-year employee of Xcel Energy, who was months away from retirement.

"It was just insane, basically," she said in a telephone interview Thursday from Sayulita. "It was getting dark, and they said we have to wait until morning."

The authorities and other locals said "it will take a few days and the body will wash to shore," she added. "It was like a dog had drowned."

Divers were out again Thursday morning, and "we're waiting for more teams from Puerto Vallarta," she said. Searchers have also been scouring the beaches.

Nancy Stoneberg wants to believe her husband may be tucked away among the rocks and cliffs along the coast and waiting for help. But she choked back her emotions recounting the moment her husband got swept away while in the water with a friend from the Twin Cities.

"It was just a fabulous day,"she said. "They scooted out for a little bit of bodysurfing because the waves were perfect for it."

From the beach, Nancy Stoneberg could see her husband struggling.

"We could see the waves coming in," she said. "Right then was when we needed something, a board or something."

Mark Stoneberg's swim partner was helpless under those conditions, she said. "If he would've made even a move," two people might be missing, she said.

At this point, Nancy Stoneberg said, she'll stay in Mexico as long as necessary. "I can't come home without him."

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482