EASTPORT, Maine — The search for two missing urchin fishermen, lost when the 34-foot commercial fishing vessel Bottom Basher, with a crew of three, sank just off Falls Island in Johnson Bay on Tuesday, was suspended at nightfall Thursday.
One crew man’s body, that of Darryl Cline of Machiasport, was recovered Wednesday about 50 feet from Shackford Head in Eastport. Still missing are Joseph Jones, the boat’s owner from Trescott, and Norman Johnson of Cutler.
U.S. Coast Guard Capt. James McPherson, commander of Coast Guard Sector Northern New England out of Portland, met with about a dozen family members of the victims at the Eastport Coast Guard Station on Thursday morning. The closed-door session lasted just over an hour and included a Coast Guard chaplain who provided counseling for several of the relatives.
McPherson said he explained to the families that with air temperatures at 36 degrees and water temperatures at 47 degrees, Thursday’s actions had shifted from rescue to recovery.
“The families were very understanding, in light of the conditions,” McPherson said. “They all come from a maritime background and know what the likely reality of the situation is.”
McPherson said that by sunset Thursday, two full night and two full day searches would have been undertaken.
These searches included a Falcon Jet and three helicopters from the Coast Guard at Cape Cod, one Canadian Defense Force helicopter, a 140-foot Coast Guard cutter, three small Coast Guard rescue boats, Maine Marine Patrol, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Maine State Police and local fishermen.
“The cooperation and work we do with the Canadians is unparalleled,” McPherson said. “They are heavy-weather sailors, heavy-weather fliers. They are tremendous.”
McPherson said area fishermen likely will continue searching on their own.
All three of the men were reported overdue about 10 p.m. Tuesday, which triggered the massive search. A debris field quickly was found.
It appears that the boat broke apart and sank just off Falls Island near Reversing Falls. The debris field was extensive, McPherson said, using a chart of Cobscook Bay and Head Harbor Passage to show that while most of the debris was found off Falls Island, the boat’s life ring was found miles away off Campobello Island, New Brunswick.
Coast Guard BM1 Terry Bailey estimated that the ring was found many miles from the major debris field and that Cline’s body also was found miles away.
Cline was discovered floating about 50 feet offshore of Shackford Head, Eastport, by the fishing vessel Bev And Jerry.
Debris from the boat also was found in Cobscook Bay, Whitney Bay and Straight Bay.
McPherson explained that the Coast Guard uses a computer program to determine where the search should concentrate. He said all information, such as the size of the boat, the tide and the current are figured into the program.
He said it was not unusual to have such a large debris field. “We have the highest and strongest tides in the world here in Cobscook Bay,” he said.
The debris from the 34-foot dragger that was recovered from the water was in a small pile on the Coast Guard dock, no piece larger than a kitchen table. There was no indication from the broken and splintered wood of any fire or charring. It was obvious from the size and condition of the bits of wood that the sinking was a catastrophic event.
McPherson said the debris would be used as part of the investigation into what caused the Bottom Basher to break apart and sink.
Urchin fishermen speculated Wednesday that the boat’s dragger likely hung up on an obstruction on the sea floor, causing the boat to tip over. Some fishermen said such a disaster can take less than five seconds from being snagged to being submerged.