Searchers come up empty

The Compass - - OPINION - BY TERRY ROBERTS

A fran­tic search in the wa­ters of Har­bour Grace last week for a re­ported over­turned sail boat came up empty, but the man who called in the au­thor­i­ties in­sists he wit­nessed a boat cap­size and dis­ap­pear in the har­bour.

The com­mu­nity came alive with ac­tiv­ity in the air, on the ground and on the wa­ter on the evening of Mon­day, Sept. 6 af­ter Wa­ter Street res­i­dent Wayne New­man called po­lice just be­fore 7 p.m. to re­port a mishap on the wa­ter on the south side of Har­bour Grace, di­rectly across from the cold stor­age fa­cil­ity.

New­man said had watched a sail boat make sev­eral passes back and forth the har­bour, and then sud­denly top­ple over.

His call trig­gered a vig­or­ous re­sponse from the RCMP, the Cana­dian Coast Guard, the Cana­dian Forces and vol­un­teers with the Har­bour Grace fire depart­ment.

For sev­eral hours, a Cor­morant search and res­cue heli­copter out of Gan­der shrieked through the skies over the har­bour, with its lights pierc­ing the evening sky as crew mem­bers scoured the wa­ter be­low. There were also fast-res­cue crafts in the wa­ter, and sev­eral aux­il­iary ves­sels with the Coast Guard.

The streets were teem­ing with cars as on­look­ers flocked to the scene, and a head and shoul­ders could be seen in nearly ev­ery win­dow in ev­ery house­hold as star­tled res­i­dents looked on, and tales about what was hap­pen­ing grew more myth­i­cal by the minute.

But all went quiet around 10 p. m., and those in­volved started ques­tion­ing the ac­cu­racy of the re­port.

“ It looks like a false alarm,” Ed­ward Finn stated as he dis­em­barked the Fal­con IV, one of sev­eral pri­vate boats in­volved in the search.

But no one was tak­ing any chances, and by morn­ing the Ge­orge R. Pear­kes, a search and res­cue ship with the Coast Guard that had sailed overnight from St. John’s, was an­chored out­side the har­bour. Tech­ni­cians in fast-res­cue crafts again searched for sev­eral hours, but again there was no sign of any stricken sail boat, or even de­bris.

By 10 a.m., the search was called off, with of­fi­cials say­ing they had done all they could.

“ There’s noth­ing else we can go on,” Kevin Barnes, re­gional su­per­vi­sor for mar­itime search and res­cue with the Cana­dian Coast Guard, told The Com­pass on the morn­ing of Tues­day, Sept. 7. But New­man was stick­ing by his story. “I’m not mis­taken. I know what I seen was a boat. A lot of peo­ple in my area saw it. My chil­dren saw it,” New­man stated.

“ That boat was float­ing up­side down in that wa­ter for 20 min­utes. They can call off the search all they want, but I know what I saw.”

New­man said he was “shook up” by the in­ci­dent, and vowed to be­gin his own search. But when con­tacted later, he said he had been “made a fool of by peo­ple in the com­mu­nity” and had de­cided to stay on­shore.

“One of those days they’ll find the peo­ple on the beach,” he said.

Au­thor­i­ties checked mari­nas through­out Con­cep­tion Bay, and there were no re­ports of any over­due ves­sels.

New­man said he didn’t rec­og­nize the ves­sel, but de­scribed it as hav­ing three sails and fly­ing a Cana­dian flag. He didn’t see any­one on­board the ves­sel, but said he watched it sail back and forth the har­bour sev­eral times be­fore it cap­sized.

“ What hap­pens if they find a body on the beach? Who are they go­ing to be­lieve then?” he asked.

New­man said other peo­ple saw the boat cap­size, but Barnes said this could not be con­firmed.

“ There were no other re­ports of any­body see­ing a boat cap­sized,” Barnes stated.

Barnes said there’s typ­i­cally a de­bris field af­ter a ves­sel sinks, but searchers have come up empty. He said the area was thor­oughly searched, and con­di­tions were ideal.

A photo of a “ white ob­ject in the wa­ter” was for­warded to po­lice, but Sgt. Rick Bud­den of the Trin­ity Con­cep­tion District RCMP said the ob­ject was uniden­ti­fi­able.

“ I guess the per­son didn’t see what he thought he saw,” Bud­den stated.

Bud­den stated the ex­haus­tive search likely cost many thou­sands of dol­lars, but he doesn’t want to in­ci­dent to de­ter oth­ers from re­port­ing sim­i­lar in­ci­dents.

“ We’d hate to have some­body cling­ing to a boat be­cause some­one won’t call us,” he said.

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