Aerial, water searches for missing Belhaven tow captain

Published 9:47 pm Thursday, January 18, 2018

PAMLICO BEACH — The search continues for a man missing after his boat capsized early Thursday morning on the Pungo River.

“We continue to conduct searches with the absolute hope that we are going to bring a happy ending to this family,” said Chris Newkirk, Beaufort County’s operations chief of fire/emergency management.

Officials declined to identify the missing man, but did say he was “a local citizen.” A press release from the U.S. Coast Guard described him as a 45-year-old TowBoatUS captain, reported to be wearing coveralls, rubber boots and a lifejacket.

The U.S. Coast Guard station at Hobucken received a call at 1:20 a.m. Friday reporting a 21-foot TowBoatUs vessel had capsized on the Pungo River near the mouth of the Pamlico River, and responded to the site of the capsized boat with a 45-foot vessel and crew and a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter out of Air Station Elizabeth City, according to the press release. The county would respond as well: Beaufort County EMS, Pamlico Beach Volunteer Fire and EMS, water rescue teams from Bunyan and Bath, the Sidney Dive Team and deputies with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office. After daylight, Newkirk said they were joined in the search by several area commercial fishermen, North Carolina Wildlife Resources and Marine Fisheries officers. By mid-afternoon, at least 30 people were on the water looking for the missing man.

Newkirk said the circumstances surrounding the incident were unclear. At the time, the towboat was towing a 47-foot recreational boat in what were reported to be high winds, limited visibility and rough seas cause by a winter storm that also released up to four inches of snow in the area. The man who made the emergency call to 911 was steering the towed boat, officials said.

“That’s been one of the difficulties is getting accurate information on what happened,” Newkirk said. “Even the witness couldn’t see what happened on the boat towing him.”

Newkirk said weather conditions continued to hamper search efforts Friday.

“We’ve had very rough seas throughout the day that have actually limited the areas we’ve been able to search,” Newkirk said. “The elements have not been in our favor today.”

Aerial and on-the-water searches of the Pamlico and Pungo rivers and their shorelines are being employed, as has SONAR, to find the missing man.

The search was discontinued at sundown Friday and is slated to start again early Saturday morning, Newkirk said.

“We hope to resolve this as soon as possible,” Newkirk said.