EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

June 29, 2009

Pair rescued from Merrimack River

(Continued)

A witness who was fishing on the opposite side of Plum Island's jetty reported he saw the boat accelerate toward the jetty as if intending to "jump" the series of jagged rocks. But Russell Hilliard, who is Coellner's uncle and the presumed owner of the boat, told police the group saw the jetties only as they got up close to them and were carried by a tidal surge into them.

It's hoped that clues can be found in the hull of the boat, which could be lying in a deep section of the river known as "the hole," according to Tow Boat US operator Michael Goodridge. Though state police said they had located the boat on the ocean floor Thursday morning, Goodridge thinks what they actually located was the deck and pulpit of the boat that he pulled from 50 feet of water yesterday.

Goodridge said the top deck section police located has been moving with the tides since the accident, after it was ripped from the hull due to wave and current activity. He plans to go out today and dive again along the outskirts of the jetty in search of that boat section.

"It's a big ocean," Goodridge said. "The hull wouldn't be moving. I'd say it has to be in a certain part of the river to have the wave action tear it apart like this."

Salisbury police will continue their investigation. They're in a holding pattern for now, said L'Esperance, who acknowledged yesterday the toll these unanswered questions have on the family and friends of Coellner.

"We've done everything we can do at this point," he said. "It's very unfortunate for the family."

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