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November 17, 2012

Man presumed drowned

Police search river for man believed to have fallen from boat

NEWBURYPORT — Coast Guard, state and local emergency officials congregated at Cashman Park yesterday afternoon, hoping against hope to find boater Richard Decker, believed to have fallen in the Merrimack River sometime Thursday night.

Authorities aren’t exactly sure what happened to Decker. They have been piecing together evidence.

According to Newburyport Police Marshall Thomas Howard, Newburyport police became aware of a potential problem around 9 Thursday night when they got a call about a lone dog tied to a pole at Cashman Park. Officers responded, Howard said, and searched for someone who might own the dog. Finding no one, they took the dog to the shelter.

The dog is a Siberian Husky named Toleman, and according to his friends, was the beloved companion of Decker, who has lately been living on an Endeavor 37-foot sailboat moored in the Merrimack, on the Salisbury side of the river off Cashman Park.

More clues emerged Friday morning, according to Newburyport Deputy Harbor Master Arthur Chaisson, when Coast Guardsmen on their usual patrol up the river came upon a swamped dingy tied to the Endeavor. Boarding the boat, they found a cell phone, but no one onboard. The Coast Guard then reached out to Newburyport authorities and began searching.

Howard said his department got the call at about 11:30 a.m. and had its dive team in the water searching for Decker by 12:30 p.m. With a line tied between the Coast Guard patrol boat and the Endeavor, and the help of the Newburyport Harbormaster’s patrol boat, three divers searched the river for hours. They included a member of the Merrimac Police Department’s dive team and Newburyport Sgt. Steve Chaisson and officer Richard Rocco, Howard said.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard dispatched a helicopter that patrolled around the immediate area, as well as up the river as far as Merrimac and down to the ocean. Yesterday was a “flood tide,” a twice-yearly event in which abnormally high tides occur, sending a strong surge of water up the river.

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