Search called off for lost Maine lobsterman

Posted Dec. 13, 2010, at 2:12 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:54 a.m.

After a fruitless search of 400 square miles of ocean in hazardous conditions, the U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search Monday for missing lobsterman David Mahonen of South Thomaston.

Mahonen, 38, was lost from the 77-foot fishing boat Timothy Michael of Newport, R.I., on Sunday afternoon when he reportedly became tangled in the lead line and was pulled overboard about 30 miles south of Matinicus Island.

Chief Charles Wheeler of the Coast Guard station in South Portland said Sunday that Mahonen had been able to cut himself free of the line and rescuers threw him a life ring, but that he let go of the ring and sank beneath the waves.

However, a Coast Guard public affairs officer for sector Northern New England said Monday that he understood that bad weather and a big wave were the primary causes of Mahonen going overboard.

The lobsterman wasn’t wearing a life jacket or cold-water survival suit, according to a Coast Guard press release issued Monday afternoon.

A Jayhawk helicopter and a Falcon jet were sent from Air Station Cape Cod, and Coast Guard cutter Harriet Lane also went to search the scene. Search crews battled 12- to 18-foot seas, winds in excess of 45 knots and low visibility during their 23-hour effort to find Mahonen. The ocean temperature was 47 degrees.

“The extreme weather and sea conditions were a challenging factor in this search, and unfortunately our crews weren’t able to find Mr. Mahonen,” said Capt. James McPherson, the sector commander for Coast Guard Sector Northern New England. “Our thoughts continue to be with his family during this difficult time.”

A person who answered the phone Monday afternoon at Mahonen’s father’s house declined to speak to a reporter.

Lobsterman Ryan Post of Spruce Head said that he fished out of the same co-op as Mahonen for years.

“He was a highliner back in the day,” Post said. A highliner is an experienced lobsterman who is known to be successful.

“When he was fishing on his own, he did extremely well. He was one of the hardest-working guys out there, for sure,” Post said.

He didn’t know why Mahonen was fishing on the Timothy Michael, but said that he was familiar with the boat, which had been featured on the Discovery Channel reality series “Lobster Wars.”

According to the Discovery Channel website, when the show debuted in 2007, the Timothy Michael was described as the “Skid Row of the Fleet.”

“As its crew proudly states, ‘This is where fishermen go when they’ve been bad.’ It’s the last chance for many crew members, and the boat itself is consistent with its reputation. Inside, the boat is in total disarray and there’s a layer of filth from the wheelhouse to the bunkroom … but ‘she’s still plenty seaworthy,’” the website stated.

At that time, the Timothy Michael fished the northern edge of Georges Bank and took a “bigger risk for a bigger reward,” according to the show description on the website.

Mahonen went overboard near Jeffrey Bank, 45 miles south of Rockland.

The Coast Guard public affairs officer said Monday that the boat’s condition had nothing to do with Mahonen going overboard. The matter is under investigation, he said.

Post said that winter fishing, whether it’s five miles off the coast of Maine or on Georges Bank, is one of the “most hazardous” occupations there is. He also said that Mahonen’s disappearance under the waves has “hit home bad.”

“It just puts everything into perspective,” he said. “The next time I’m on the boat, I’ll slow down a little bit and pay attention. That’s what the ocean does — you need to be on your toes all the time.”

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