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Tuesday, July 29, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 4/19/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

Search for boaters called off

2 men still missing as authorities find few answers

BY MIKE SIGOV
BLADE STAFF WRITER

OAK HARBOR, Ohio — Authorities are trying to determine why a fishing boat became submerged this week off Locust Point on Lake Erie, a tragedy that left two people dead and two men missing.

Hopes of finding the missing men alive slipped further Friday.

Authorities called off the search at 4 p.m. and suspended it pending any new developments.

Bryan Huff Bryan Huff
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Ralph Huff of Rossford, the father of Bryan Huff, one of the two men missing, said it did not appear the 21-foot fishing boat was in a collision, leaving more questions than answers.

Andrew Rose Andrew Rose
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“I just want to get my boy home,” the elder Mr. Huff said, breaking down into tears.

“My boy was very experienced. He lived on the lake. He was a hunter and fisherman.”

Friday morning, officials with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources were back on the water shortly after dawn looking for the younger Mr. Huff, 32, of Rossford, and Andrew Rose, 33, of Maumee.

The bodies of Amy Santus, 33, of Perrysburg Township and Paige Widmer, 16, of Pelion, S.C., were recovered Thursday from the lake.

Ms. Santus and Miss Widmer died of drowning, according to the autopsies, said Dr. Daniel Cadigan, the Ottawa County coroner.

Dr. Cadigan said there was no evidence that hypothermia was a contributing factor, and he did not note any injuries.

He confirmed that both women were wearing life jackets and warm clothing.

It is impossible to say how long the bodies were in the water, Dr. Cadigan said.

Authorities said Thursday that given the extreme risk of hypothermia this time of year — western Lake Erie has been ice-free for only a week now — authorities know the odds of survival aren’t good. But they said they were continuing to hold out hope one or both of the men might have survived.

Water temperatures this week were reported to be in the low 40s.

On Friday, about six relatives and friends returned to Turtle Point Marina — where Mr. Huff launched his Bass Tracker vessel Wednesday — to await news and hope for the best.

Chad German, an area supervisor with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said conditions on the lake Wednesday were choppy, with 2-3 foot waves.

He said those conditions could have played a role in the boat becoming partially submerged.

The boat was structurally sound and the plug was not in use, a sign that the incident happened without notice; life jackets and a marine radio also were found on board, he said.

According to national statistics, he said, 90 percent of fatalities on the water involve people who fall overboard unexpectedly.

Mr. German said two boats, one from the state and another from the sheriff’s office, were involved in Friday’s search.

The focus is between what’s known as the Crane Creek Reef and the Toussaint Reef, where he said hundreds of fishing boats were out Friday morning.

About 1 p.m. Friday, Mike Dunn, 53, of Northwood, had just pulled his 17.5-foot Alumacraft boat out of the water at the Wild Wings Marina nearby.

He stopped to talk about his experience fishing walleye at the reef area and his fears about possibly finding a body from this week’s incident.

“I was a little worried about that today, thinking someone might find something,” he said.

“There are a lot of boats out there. I was just hoping it wouldn’t be me.”

Mr. Dunn went on to say he wasn’t worried about safety while fishing Friday, because the weather was fine and because he had all the required safety gear aboard.

“It’s a nice day today, real calm, nice wind,” he said. “Two to three feet [waves Wednesday] wouldn’t be too bad, but a lot worse than today.”

Contact Mike Sigov at: sigov@theblade.com, 419-724-6089, or on Twitter @mikesigovblade.



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