Search continues for teen lost at sea

Posted March 26, 2009, at 9:29 p.m.

LUBEC, Maine — Family members of Loren Lank, 53, whose body was found in Johnson Bay on Wednesday, spoke gently of him on Thursday, saying the fisherman wanted to die on the water.

Lank got his wish when the boat he was aboard sank Wednesday afternoon while dragging sea urchins in the waters off Leighton’s Point in Pembroke.

Lank apparently was piloting the fishing boat All American, owned by Roger Preston of Roque Bluffs. Preston’s son, Logan Preston, 19, working as the sternman, also was on board.

Officials continued to search for Logan Preston’s body Thursday.

No one is sure what happened in the cold Atlantic waters Wednesday, but Lank’s stepson Clifford Flynn, 38, speculated Thursday that the boat’s drag apparatus might have gotten hooked on some rocks causing the boat to flip.

“Anything and everything can happen out there,” he said. “You could be towing right along and then catch down and the boat could flip over upside down. Once you are upside down you are trapped. You can’t get out. The only way he [Loren Lank] got out of the boat is the wheelhouse come off the boat and he come out of the wheelhouse.”

Flynn said Preston probably was at the back of the boat dressed in oil gear.

“You are dressed up warm. You sink. There’s no way you can get your clothes off because it is stuck right to you,” he said.

Flynn was on board the boat Perfect Choice on Wednesday when they found Lank. Also on board was Mitch McConnell and McConnell’s son. They had been dragging in nearby waters when they came upon debris about a mile east of Eastport.

“We come out of the Whiting River and we come across [parts of] the boat — the top of the wheelhouse, the washboards and the dump table,” Flynn said. “I said, ‘Whose boat is this?’ We come across a life preserver floating in the water and it said Roger Preston and then I knew it was Loren.”

They followed the debris field and found Lank.

“They knew it was him because he had on brand new green boots and black sweat pants,” Emilie Norton, Clifton Flynn’s fiancee, said Thursday.

The Perfect Choice crew tied a rope to Lank and held him until Maine Marine Patrol personnel arrived and took charge of the body.

“They put him on the back of the boat and that was it,” Flynn said quietly.The U.S. Coast Guard and Marine Patrol mounted a massive air and sea search for Logan Preston on Wednesday.

Marine Patrol officers ended their search around 9 p.m., but the Coast Guard searched throughout the night. They found nothing.

The search teams, joined by the Maine State Police dive team, were back on the water early Thursday morning.

“We are trying to find the boat. We are using side scan sonar, and some of the local fishing boats are grappling, hoping to find the boat so we can put divers down,” Marine Patrol Officer David Dent said Thursday afternoon.

“[We’re] looking at a set of ledges off of Denbow Point in Pembroke,” he said.

He said they also were searching South Bay in Lubec and a ground search team was walking the shore along Seward Neck in North Lubec.

Late Thursday afternoon the scanner crackled with news that part of the blue and white hull of the missing boat had been found and searchers had seen an oil slick in the water.

While the search continued, Lank’s family waited at the fisherman’s home on the South Lubec Road for news of his sternman.

Lank’s granddaughter, Tiffany Bowen, 20, said Thursday she had a “gut” feeling that something tragic was going to happen. The feeling was reinforced by recurring bad dreams of a boat sinking.

“Two days before he died I told him he needed to stop fishing due to his heart,” she said. “And he didn’t listen to me. He went fishing yesterday.”

The urchin season ends Tuesday, March 31.

Lank’s wife, Florence, 61, said Thursday she also had asked him to stop fishing.

“He went out Monday [and] he made $100 because there isn’t really much out there, but it helped us out,” she said. “Tuesday he didn’t go because it was blowing. And [Wednesday] morning he got up and he went out. I tried to tell him ‘Please don’t go today in that boat.’”

Those who knew Logan Preston described him Thursday as an easygoing, happy-go-lucky guy.

Preston, a native of Lubec, lived with his mother and attended high school in Hermon before moving in with his father in Roque Bluffs, said Roque Bluffs Selectman Owen Moody.

“For the last few years he has been working with his dad as a fisherman and clam digger,” Moody said. “He was very outgoing and a hard, hard worker. He was a happy-go-lucky kid. It seemed that not too much bothered him.”

Moody said Preston also was training to be a firefighter with the Roque Bluffs Fire Department.

“This is just tragic,” Moody said.

“He was a good kid and an outstanding wrestler,” Ken Fredericks, Hermon High School’s guidance counselor recalled. Fredericks said Preston transferred out of Hermon High School during his senior year but was remembered fondly by staff.

“He was a happy kid,” Fredericks said.

Sitting in her kitchen surrounded by family, Florence Lank wiped tears from her eyes as she talked about her husband. The couple had been married 26 years.

“He married me and took my six children in that didn’t belong to him and he loved them,” she said. She said he was also an attentive step-grandfather to their 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

The stepchildren now range from 33 to 43 years old. “I don’t know how a man can take someone else’s six kids and bring them up,” she said. “There’s not many men in this world that would take on that responsibility.”

She said Lank had been a fisherman his whole life. He was born and raised in Welsh Pool on Campobello Island, New Brunswick.

“He loved doing it,” she said.

He was out there even though he had bypass surgery, a leg operation and a back operation, and was scheduled for another back operation, she said. “But he couldn’t stay off the boat,” his wife said.

Bathya Woodward of Lubec said Thursday that she and her live-in companion, Kevin Simonds, had dragged urchins with Lank from October of last year until January of this year.

“He was almost kind of fatherly like when we were out there fishing for urchins,” she said.

And very generous. At the start of urchin season, she said, the couple had problems with their boat the Sea Asylum and Lank gave them the money he had earned dragging so they could fix the boat, “to keep us going,” Woodward said.

They paid him back, Woodward said, but the kindness was typical of Loren Lank.

Woodward’s father, Basil, who lives across the South Lubec Road from the Lank family, described Lank as a quiet man. “When he spoke he didn’t waste words,” he said. “He was always a gentleman.”

Dragging for urchins is dangerous, Bathya Woodward said. A boat can run into an unseen ledge or the drag can get hung up in rocks. “People have actually ripped their rigging right out of their boats,” she said.

Fisherman Danny Fitzsimmons of Lubec, who also was on the water dragging for urchins Wednesday, agreed that a lot of things can go wrong. “Anything can happen. Your drag gets caught down. If you are going with the tide it sucks your stern under. It’s tricky,” he said.

The Lank family already has faced several tragedies in recent years.

Their daughter Barbara Rice’s father-in-law, Ray Rice, died last week and the family was going to attend Rice’s funeral on Thursday. “I had every intention of going,” Florence Lank said.

And last year, Florence Lank was saddened when she learned that her best friend’s son, Kristopher Fergerson, drowned. Fergerson, 27, and a friend were harvesting periwinkles the night of Dec. 2, 2008, in South Lubec when Fergerson disappeared. His body was found two days later, but family members have not had closure because the state Medical Examiner’s Office will not have the result of a toxicology report until May.

Two years ago, family member Wade Gallagher of Campobello Island vanished while fishing. “His boat flipped over on him,” Florence Lank’s son Gordon Flynn said.

“They never found him,” his mother added.

Lubec Town Administrator Maureen Glidden said Thursday that these kinds of tragedies were part of living in a working fishing village. “It appears it works in cycles,” she said of the tragedies.

Glidden said that changes in state fishing laws limiting the days fishermen can be out on the water has been a problem. Fishermen are restricted to a certain number of days a week instead of a block number of days.

Although weather did not appear to be a factor on Wednesday for Lank and Preston, it has been in the past for fishermen.

“I think that the guys are going out in weather when they probably wouldn’t otherwise go out because of changes in state laws,” she said. “And I think our Legislatures need to think about that.”

The missing boat, a 34-foot blue-and-white fiberglass dragger, was last seen around 3 p.m. Wednesday dragging for sea urchins between Leighton Point in Pembroke and Red Island, according to the U.S. Coast Guard and Maine Marine Patrol.

About 4:10 p.m., the crew of the Perfect Choice reported they had come across a debris field in Johnson Bay. Coast Guard Sector Northern New England launched a 25-foot response boat from Coast Guard Station Eastport and issued an urgent marine information broadcast asking boaters in the area to help with the search, according to a press release issued by the Coast Guard.

The Maine Marine Patrol recovered Lank’s body near the debris field at 5:15 p.m. in Johnson Bay. Lank’s body was taken to the state Medical Examiner’s Office in Augusta.

Family members said they were told Lank’s body would be brought back to Lubec today.The Coast Guard said in a press release Thursday evening that the search for Logan Preston’s body would continue through the night if necessary. Maine Marine Patrol, Maine State Police dive teams and the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, as well as Coast Guard cutters and a helicopter, were participating in the search.

BDN writer Sharon Kiley Mack contributed to this report.

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