Searchers find crabber’s body

Published 6:57 pm Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Community Edito

BATH — The body of a missing commercial fisherman was found during a rescue-turned-recovery mission off Ragged Point on the Pamlico River early Tuesday morning.
The body of Wilbur Sawyer, 69, was recovered within 20 yards of where he went overboard around 2 p.m. Monday by volunteers with the Sidney Dive Team, according to John Pack, Beaufort County’s emergency-management coordinator.
“I wish we could have had the outcome the family wanted,” Pack said. “But the family can start mourning now, and go through what they need to.”
Sawyer, an employee of a local crabbing operation, apparently was checking a crab pot from the side of a 19-foot-long Sea Ox boat when he fell into the river. Another employee on the boat threw Sawyer a life vest, but the crabber couldn’t reach it before he went under, according to Pack.
Sawyer’s colleague flagged down a passing tug boat, which called the Coast Guard’s Hobucken station.
A helicopter with the Coast Guard’s air station in Elizabeth City and a rescue boat from Hobucken, were deployed to lead the rescue mission.
Also assisting in the search were officers with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, Division of Marine Fisheries personnel, Goose Creek State Park rangers, the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, Sidney Dive Team, Bath Volunteer Fire Department, N.C. Canine Emergency Response Team and Bunyan Volunteer Fire Department.
“The high winds are creating rough seas,” said incident commander Wesley Williams on Monday afternoon. “It’s making the search difficult.”
Williams, who is the chief of the Bunyan VFD, decided to carry out the rescue-turned-recovery mission through the night. The decision was based on reports coming from the National Weather Service that winds, which had been churning at 5 to 10 knots, would pick up by midnight.
“We were trying to fight the weather system coming in,” Pack said. “Incident commander Wes said, ‘Go for it.’”
Searchers got a break about 11 p.m. Monday when a highly advanced towed-array sonar device, provided by N.C. CERT, located three possible sites for the missing crabber. The sonar device, which looks like a torpedo, attaches to the back of a boat and is designed to scan deep water.
Volunteers with the Sidney Dive Team explored the three sites and located Sawyer’s body.
Pack commended the work of the dive team and other volunteers involved in the recovery.
“This is a dedicated bunch of volunteers. They knew how important it was to find him,” he said.
He also applauded the work of the Greater Pamlico Area Chapter of the American Red Cross, which provided sandwiches and beverages for those involved in the rescue, which involved some 60 people.