STOCKTON SPRINGS, Maine — A search team combed the shores and waters of the Penobscot River south of the Penobscot Narrows Bridge this weekend in search of a Searsport District High School freshman who jumped from the bridge Tuesday afternoon.
Although the official search was suspended temporarily on Friday, members of Dirigo Search and Rescue and the Down East Emergency Medical Institute of Brewer gathered at Sandy Point Beach to look for signs of Mark Thomas Jr., 14, of Stockton Springs, who last was seen leaping from the bridge.
DEEMI director Richard Bowie said 18 volunteers took part in the search. He said some walked the west shore of the river between the beach and the bridge, while others traversed the area on all-terrain vehicles or surveyed the river shore from boats. In addition, a DEEMI aircraft studied the area from above, penetrating the water by using electronic digital imaging to take more than 1,200 images below the surface.
The high-resolution images were sent to analysts at Volunteer Imagery Analysts for Search and Rescue, or VIASAR, in Ohio.
“They can determine from the images whether we have a body in the water,” Bowie said.
He said VIASAR reported back at 2:06 a.m. Sunday that “something of interest” was revealed in Gondola Cove about two nautical miles from the bridge. Although the group searched the area, by midafternoon nothing had been found.
“We’ve been out here all day poking around to see if we can find out what that image was,” he said.
In addition, Bowie said, a cadaver-sniffing dog that had been working the river for the past three days indicated “hits” at locations along the west side of the river. That area also was searched on foot and with ATVs. A Marine Patrol plane also took part in the search, he said.
A nonprofit volunteer search and rescue team with 100 members, DEEMI used similar equipment a year ago when a 3-year-old Fort Fairfield girl fell into the Aroostook River and drowned. The girl’s body was depicted in images of Tinker Dam in New Brunswick, where it was recovered.
Witnesses reported seeing Thomas jump off the bridge at approximately 3 p.m. Tuesday. A Rockland couple told sheriff’s deputies and rescue personnel that they were traveling in the northbound lane of the bridge toward Verona Island when the vehicle in front of them stopped at about the middle of the bridge and the male operator left the vehicle and jumped from the bridge into the river below.
Another witness told officers that he was in the observatory parking lot beneath the bridge on the river’s edge and saw the teen go into the water.
The travel deck of the cable-stayed suspension bridge is about 155 feet from the surface of the river at high tide.
Boats from Prospect Fire-Ambulance and Bucksport Fire-Ambulance responded Tuesday and mounted a rescue effort along with boats from the Marine Patrol and Coast Guard. A Coast Guard helicopter and Marine Patrol airplane also joined the search efforts. An approximately 20-mile-long stretch of the river, upstream and downstream, was examined before the search was suspended that evening.
On Wednesday, the multi-agency search team, including divers from the Maine State Police dive team, returned to the river and conducted an extensive search. The team continued its search until it was suspended temporarily Friday afternoon.