Searchers come up empty
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.