Coast Guard shares information on recovery of missing boaters

Published 7:40 pm Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Inexperience on the water may have contributed to the deaths of two part-time Beaufort County residents who were the subject of a massive search and rescue effort on the Pamlico River over the weekend.

Officials with the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission released the names of the deceased on Tuesday, identifying the two individuals killed as Thomas Baker, age 72, and Sarah Baker, age 70.

According to Potter’s Marine Owner Conway Potter, the Bakers first rented a slip at the marina two months ago as the new owners of a 20-foot Grady White powerboat.

“He had a lot of questions for me and gave me the impression that he was very new to having a boat and being on the water,” Potter said.

Potter says he watched the couple set out from the marina on North Creek on Friday. He went on to say the couple stopped to get fuel at the Quarterdeck in Bath before they disappeared.

According to US Coast Guard Officer in Charge of Hobucken Station Nathan Jones, neighbors spotted the Bakers’ vessel adrift at the mouth of North Creek at approximately 6:40 p.m. on Friday.

According to information shared by Beaufort County Emergency Management, local resources joined the search at the request of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission at approximately 7:39 p.m. on Friday evening.

Jones said the U.S. Coast Guard deployed three boats and four aircraft during the search, with more than a dozen local and state agencies from Beaufort, Craven, Pamlico, Gates and Hertford counties each playing a part in the effort.

According to Jones, the body of Sarah Baker was recovered at 7:53 a.m. on Sunday morning, with Thomas Baker being recovered at 8:24 a.m. Jones said the two were found, without PFDs, on the eastern shore of North Creek, near Frying Pan Creek.

Both Potter and Jones say proper PFD usage and safety precautions might have led to a different outcome. Under North Carolina State Law, all recreational vessels longer than 16 feet must be equipped with PFDs for each person on board. Jones also recommends that vessels file a float plan with a local marina to ensure someone knows your intentions.

Potter, as a marina owner, added that he recommends all new boat owners take a boating safety course. Under North Carolina state law, those born after January 1, 1988 must take a boating safety course before operating a vessel equipped with anything more powerful than a 10-horsepower engine.

“The bottom line is they got in the water without life vests,” Potter said. “I don’t know if we’ll ever know why, but that’s the basis of the tragedy.”

According to Beaufort County property records, the Bakers owned riverfront property on Pinecrest Road, east of Bayview, but were full-time residents of Keswick, Virginia. Conway says the two had purchased the property as second home sometime in the past year.

Agencies involved in the search included The U.S. Coast Guard, the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission, N.C. Emergency Management, N.C. Marine Fisheries, N.C. Marine Patrol, Beaufort County Emergency Management, the Beaufort County Water Rescue Team, the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, Craven County Emergency Management, Hertford County Emergency Management, Gates County Emergency Management, Township 9 Fire Department and the Salvation Army.

The Beaufort County Water Rescue Team is made up of members from multiple local fire and rescue departments, including Bunyan, Bath, Aurora, Washington, Sidney, the Sidney Dive Team and Chocowinity Fire and EMS. Potter’s Marina also assisted with the search.