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July 1, 2009

Search continues for body after boat found

NEWBURYPORT — Tow Boat US divers have located the hull and what remains of the 36-foot boat a Kensington, N.H., man was captaining when it went down in the mouth of the Merrimack River on June 24.

However, the body of the missing captain, Seth Coellner, 36, has not been found.

Using sonar technology, Tow Boat owner Michael Goodridge dove down Monday evening to the site, a quarter-mile northeast off Salisbury's north jetty, and found the broken and battered hull resting upside down on the ocean floor. He described the scene as a tangled mess of wires, hoses and splintered wood — most likely deposited at the current location by the first outgoing tide following the incident.

"We found the boat, or what remains of the boat," Goodridge said. "It's not really intact. The hull was there and the motors, but it's pretty broken up."

On the front side of the boat, Goodridge said he observed a 4-foot hole, which he thinks confirms what boat owner Russell Hilliard, 50, first told police and confirmed to Goodridge Monday — that the boat suffered a catastrophic hit on the north jetty.

Although one family member seeking to piece together what happened that evening suspected the boat had struck a sandbar, Goodridge thinks the hole in the hull discounts that theory. The boat, he said, is an older model Uniflight craft with an all-fiberglass hull, and not the wooden-hulled Chris Craft originally identified by the Coast Guard.

"They definitely suffered an impact," Goodridge said. "You can't drive a Uniflight onto a sandbar and put a 4-foot hole in the boat. It's solid fiberglass."

Goodridge said he spoke with the owner of the boat Monday afternoon, and Hilliard reiterated the same story he told police after the incident — that the group hit the north side of the north jetty. In his attempt to help Goodridge locate the boat, he described the location where he watched the boat go down in the water.

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