Search under way for lobsterman missing off Matinicus

Posted Oct. 28, 2008, at 3:40 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:17 a.m.

MATINICUS ISLAND, Maine — The search for a local lobsterman presumed lost in waters off Zypher Ledges on Monday continued through the night into Tuesday.

Chris Whitaker, 24, was last seen in his 21-foot open skiff about noon on Monday. He left alone earlier that day to tend his traps, Chief Warrant Officer Chris Bartel, commanding officer of U.S. Coast Guard Station Rockland said Tuesday.

By late Tuesday afternoon, searchers had yet to find a trace of Whitaker or his boat. The seas around the island were running 2 to 3 feet and the winds were 15 knots, Bartel said.

Bartel said Zypher Ledges are located about two miles from the north end of Matinicus Island and searchers in that area had recovered items believed to have come from Whitaker’s boat. A lunch cooler, boot, rain gear, a life jacket and oil can were located between the ledges and the island.

Some of the recovered items were identified by his mother as belonging to Whitaker, according to Bartel.

While local fishermen began working the waters immediately after it was determined Whitaker was missing, Bartel said the official search began around 3:30 p.m. Monday. At its onset, the search involved the Coast Guard, Marine Patrol and about a dozen local lobster boats. A search plane from Brunswick Naval Air Station also took part in the search.

The Coast Guard’s 110-foot-long Jefferson Island out of South Portland and the 87-foot-long Moray out of Jonesport arrived in the evening and continued to search throughout the night. Bartel said the Rockland station’s 47-foot-long motor lifeboat gave up the search at 10:30 p.m. Monday but was back at the island located 25 miles off Rockland by first light Tuesday.

“We’re still searching,” Bartel said that afternoon. “It was foggy, and that kind of weather makes it a little bit more challenging.”

Ken Stuart, search and rescue specialist out of the Coast Guard’s Portland office, said two Marine Patrol boats, eight local lobster boats and a Coast Guard helicopter out of Air Station Cape Cod also joined in Tuesday’s search. He said the search would continue into Tuesday evening.

“We’ve saturated the area with numerous search patterns and we plan to continue,” Stuart said. “The weather is turning for the worse but we will have search and rescue on scene until nightfall.”

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