BUCKSPORT, Maine — A 5-year-old boy died after falling into the Penobscot River while fishing Friday morning, and a Maine State Police diver recovered the body of his 54-year-old grandfather who jumped in to try to save the boy.
The victims were identified Friday evening as Aiden Bulkley of Bangor and his grandfather Ronald LaRue, 54, of Mayfield, Kentucky, according to Jeff Nichols of the Maine Marine Patrol.
The family had been fishing off a floating dock near the bridge between Bucksport and Verona Island when the boy fell in and the grandfather went in after him about 10:30 a.m.
Nichols said the current was too strong and the two became separated.
Derik Goodine, the new Bucksport town manager, said that he happened to be in the vicinity when the boy went into the river. The man who jumped in after the boy soon vanished into the murky river, where the tide was ebbing, Goodine said, but people on shore saw the little boy underwater. Members of the police and fire departments and a Maine State Police trooper who also happened to be in the area jumped in to try to save the boy. They pulled him to shore and administered CPR before he was taken to the hospital, an emotional Goodine said.
Dr. Peter Kirbach of the state medical examiner’s office said early Friday afternoon that the boy was declared dead upon arrival at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.
“My thoughts and prayers have been with the family all day,” Goodine said. “I was hoping to hear some good news, especially for the child. My heart sank when I heard he didn’t make it.”
Rescue personnel from local and state agencies converged on the area near the Irving gas station at the intersection of Routes 1 and 15 to search the river for LaRue. Planes circled overhead, boats went back and forth in the river and crews of searchers walked along the riverfront looking for him.
Boats, planes and personnel came from the Bangor Fire Department, Maine Marine Patrol, Bucksport and Orland fire departments, Bucksport police, Maine State Police, the U.S. Coast Guard and DEEMI Search and Rescue of Orono.
The state police diver was in the water only about 20 minutes before he surfaced with LaRue’s body just before 2:30 p.m., and rescuers lifted it onto a small dinghy. They headed to the Verona Island boat launch where an ambulance and police officers waited.
LaRue’s body was found less than 300 yards downriver from the municipally owned floating dock where the family had been fishing and just beyond the Edward Thegan Bridge between Bucksport and Verona Island.
Nichols of Maine Marine Patrol said that searchers used their knowledge of the tides and the currents in the river — as well as side-scan sonar — to find the body. Earlier, Sgt. Colin MacDonald of Maine Marine Patrol said that water visibility was near zero.
Erin Brown of Bucksport, who was on the bridge as the dinghy with LaRue’s body moved closer to land, said that it was a heartbreaking day.
“It just makes me sad, so sad,” she said. “It just makes you want to love your family more.”
She said that when her 3-year-old daughter has asked to go on the floating dock, she has refused.
“This river is not a river to mess with,” Brown said. “That dock should be burned. There’s no protection, and the current … does it take somebody to lose their life to get rid of it?”
When asked about the dock, Goodine said that it had been a traumatic day for Bucksport and that he wasn’t prepared to comment about that. He did say that in addition to being used for fishing, boaters also launch canoes and kayaks off the dock.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that a Bangor Police Department boat was called in to help with the search. In addition, the victims' names previously were reported incorrectly.