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A search lasting more than 20 hours for two missing 17-year-old boys in western P.E.I. was suspended Thursday evening.
Three teens had gone out in a vessel Wednesday that capsized near Northport, said searchers on the scene. One was able to make it to shore and call 911.
That call was directed to the Maritime Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre (JRCC) around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, said Lt.-Cmdr. Brian Owens, public affairs officer with the JRCC. A Cormorant search-and-rescue helicopter was on the scene 40 minutes later.
Shortly after 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, it was announced via a JRCC tweet that because of the results so far and the environmental conditions, the search would be suspended and handed over to the RCMP as a missing persons case. Over 14.5 square kilometres of both sea and land had been covered throughout the course of more than 20 hours.
Our thoughts and sincere condolences go out to the families, friends, and community of these two young men. The case will now be turned over to the RCMP as a missing persons case. 2/2— HfxJRCC_CCCOS (@hfxjrcc) September 17, 2020
Authorities had not released the identity of the three teens, nor the condition of the caller by print deadline.
As of noon Thursday, the Cormorant helicopter was still at the scene, as well as three Canadian Coast Guard vessels and PAL Airlines. Owens said a C-130 Hercules aircraft was scheduled to re-join the search after a crew change.
Late last night, JRCC responded to a capsized vessel with 3 POB off Fox Is. PEI, tasking a CH-149 Cormorant helicopter, a C-130 Hercules aircraft, the CCGC Cap Nord & CCGS DUDKA Fast Rescue Crafts and the CCGA Searcher 1— HfxJRCC_CCCOS (@hfxjrcc) September 17, 2020
Joining the search were the Alberton Fire services vessel and local fishers. All are searching the area, looking for two 17 year old males who went into the water. The individuals’ NOK have been notified— HfxJRCC_CCCOS (@hfxjrcc) September 17, 2020
When the boat capsized, a third person was able to make it ashore to call 911. The call came in at 9.28 pm local and the cormorant was on-scene within 40 minutes, followed by the CCGC Cap Nord Fast Rescue Crafts. Updates to follow— HfxJRCC_CCCOS (@hfxjrcc) September 17, 2020
Alberton Mayor David Gordon described it as “a sad day for West Prince” in an interview with The Guardian.
“It’s the families’ worst nightmare,” said Gordon, who could hear helicopters searching Wednesday night. “You never want to ever see this happen.
“The boys were well-known, not only in our community (Alberton) but O’Leary, Tignish and played hockey in all three. It’s a bad day.”
Local fishermen and community members quickly joined the search once news broke.
“It’s hard to watch and you want to be involved,” said Tignish fishermen Joey Morrissey at the Northport Harbour on Thursday morning. “I have a Sea-Doo and I figure I can cover a lot of ground.”
Morrissey spent three hours searching during his first trip out on the water. He was heading back out a following a brief break and refuelling.
Morrissey said, as a parent, his thoughts are with the families.
“You have to give it an effort," said Morrissey.
The Northport Community Centre, located next to the wharf, was opened for members of the community to gather. Food was also available for searchers and first responders.
“This is everybody’s nightmare,” said Wendy McNeill, mayor of the rural municipality of Northport. “When you live in a fishing community and anything happens at sea it touches everybody.”
Chas McNeill of Richmond travelled to Northport to help out any way he could. He was part of a crew on a boat searching.
“It’s a sad day,” said McNeill, who coaches an under-15 hockey team in O'Leary.
McNeill said it is inspiring how everyone has rallied together in the search and to support each other.
“I could not sit home and not do anything,” said McNeill.
Along with the Northport Harbour, an area of focus appeared to be around Fox Island. The Fox Island Road was closed to the public and media Thursday morning. The road was reopened later in the day.
In the afternoon, a low-flying helicopter slowly monitored the water near the wharf in Northport.
McNeill described the traffic in and out of the Northport Community Centre as steady Thursday.
She said P.E.I. Minister of Fisheries and Communities Jamie Fox and Alberton-Bloomfield MLA Ernie Hudson both reached out offering their support. McNeill noted counsellors were made available at local schools Thursday.
She said people want to help each other and noted assistance is being offered from outside the community as well. She said the centre will stay open as long as necessary.
“We live in a small community, but people have very big hearts,” she said.