EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

November 19, 2012

Search for missing man in river is called off

Sailor presumed drowned in Merrimack River

NEWBURYPORT — After two days of intensive efforts, the search for a German man who presumably drowned in the Merrimack River Thursday night has been called off, according to rescue officials.

It is believed 51-year-old Richard Decker, who has been living on a 37-foot Endeavor sailboat moored in the Merrimack on the Salisbury side off Cashman Park, fell into the roughly 40-degree water sometime around 9 p.m. on Thursday night.

Local and state police dive teams entered the water Friday and were aided by a sonar-like device that can pick up objects at the bottom of the river. But after two days of diving, authorities decided to give up the search.

Newburyport police City Marshal Thomas Howard said yesterday his department and the Coast Guard would continue to search on land for clues related to Decker’s disappearance but acknowledged there would be no more underwater searches.

“We searched extensively for two days and came up with nothing,” Howard said.

Both Howard and Newburyport Harbormaster Paul Hogg said the current at the point of the river where Deck disappeared is strong, but Hogg added it was the very chilly water that played more of a factor in Decker’s presumed drowning.

“Once you hit that cold water, that cold, cold water, it is almost impossible,” Hogg said, referring to climbing back on board a swamped boat. “To keep on putting the divers in the water, it’s more of a risk to the rescue team.”

A similar drowning occurred in the same general area of the river in the late fall of 2002, when a 44-year-old man was attempting to step from his sailboat into his dinghy. The man fell in and drowned; although the search ranged far up and down the river, his body was recovered on the river bottom, within a few yards of the boat.

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