OGUNQUIT – The Coast Guard and the Maine Marine Patrol halted their search for a missing fisherman at sunset Friday and said the mission in the waters off Ogunquit would switch Saturday to trying to find his body.
The search for Billy McIntire, part of a well-known family of fishermen who sail out of Perkins Cove, lasted more than 20 hours and covered more than 600 square miles by air and sea, said a Coast Guard spokesman.
The Coast Guard said it won’t have vessels in the area Saturday unless it receives a report that McIntire’s body has been spotted, but the Marine Patrol will search for his body starting early Saturday.
McIntire, 51, was reported missing late Thursday night after he took his fishing boat, the Clover, out on the water with four friends.
Accounts of the events differ, but the Coast Guard confirmed an initial account that a woman, one of McIntire’s guests, became distressed while she was in the water. It’s not clear whether members of the group were swimming, or how McIntire ended up in the water.
The woman eventually got back onto the boat, but the Coast Guard would not say how.
Lt. Scott McCann, a spokesman for Coast Guard Sector Northern New England, said the Coast Guard is investigating the circumstances of how McIntire got separated from the Clover and won’t comment further until the investigation is complete.
Local officials said they aren’t sure why McIntire took the Clover out and exactly what happened to him.
“There are several stories at this point. As to the specifics, we really don’t know,” said Ogunquit Police Chief Patricia Arnaudin.
Friday’s search initially was concentrated around a buoy about mile out on the channel from picturesque Perkins Cove, which was filled with tourists.
McCann said the search area broadened as the day went on, with tide and current information used to guide searchers to places where McIntire would most likely be found.
Divers searched underwater until late in the afternoon, when a side-scan sonar device arrived and was towed back and forth to scan for objects under the water or on the sea floor.
McCann said the Coast Guard uses a formula to determine how long someone is likely to survive in the water, based on factors such as water temperature and sea conditions. He said the conditions in the area Friday were ideal for someone to survive, but the formula still indicated that McIntire was unlikely to be alive more than 20 hours after going into the water.
Friday’s sunshine and calm seas also made searching easy, he said, with vessels and a Coast Guard helicopter initially, augmented by the divers and a Marine Patrol plane later.
“If he was above the surface, we would have found him,” McCann said.
He said McIntire’s parents and siblings were briefed Friday evening by Capt. Brian Gilda, commander of the Coast Guard sector, and they accepted the decision to end the rescue effort.
The Clover was brought back to port Friday by the Marine Patrol, and was boarded by inspectors from the Coast Guard. McCann said what the inspectors found is part of the investigation and he declined to discuss it.
The Clover was moored Friday closest to the foot drawbridge that crosses the entrance to Perkins Cove, just below the harbormaster’s building. A large stainless steel propane grill was on the stern of the boat, but the deck appeared empty otherwise.
“They were out partying last night,” said Tim Tower, a lifelong friend of McIntire’s who manages Barnacle Billy’s, a harborside restaurant where friends said McIntire could often be found when he wasn’t at sea. “He shouldn’t have been out there in the state he was in.”
Police, the Coast Guard and the Marine Patrol all declined to say whether alcohol played a role in the accident.
Family members and friends gathered near the water’s edge to watch the rescue boats circle the buoy, but most left as the day wore on. Occasionally, tourists asked news crews, firefighters or police what was going on and then moved on after they were told.
Among the family and friends who gathered was Michelle Melanson, 34, who said she has known McIntire since she was a small child.
Melanson said McIntire is a fifth-generation fisherman whose family has been in Ogunquit for decades. She said McIntire is fun-loving and humble, and is well known in the tight-knit community. His parents, who live in town, are in shock, she said.
“This is quite a tragedy,” she said. “I mean, accidents do happen, but to him, of all people.”
Ogunquit Harbormaster Fred Mayo said he knows how it feels to wonder where a loved one went: His 26-year-old son died about 15 years ago while diving for urchins.
“Once you get the ocean involved, there’s too many variables,” Mayo said. “Mother Nature will do what she wants with you.”
Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:
Edward D. Murphy can be reached at 791-6465 or at: