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Crews search for missing boater in Winooski River

Published: Jun. 29, 2021 at 12:27 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - An Essex Junction man is missing after an apparent boating accident at the mouth of the Winooski River Monday.

Police say they responded around 4 p.m. to the area after a witness saw Barry Nelson, 73, of Essex Junction, attempt to sail a small sailboat from the north shore toward the south shore in the vicinity of Charlie’s Boathouse.

“I saw him fall but I didn’t see him in the water,” said Kenneth Hebert of Burlington.

Firefighters, divers and a Coast Guard helicopter from Cape Cod were out looking for more than four hours. They found Nelson’s boat on shore, but no sign of him.

“First and foremost, we want to find somebody and rescue them. That’s obviously our priority and what we’re always trying to accomplish, but then once we transfer into the recovery mode, obviously we very much want to bring closure to the family and that’s unfortunately what we’ve come to tonight,” Burlington Fire Capt. Mark McDonough said.

He says this is a relatively rare event and that it’s a dangerous part of the river because it’s very shallow in some spots and drops off quickly where the current of the river flows through.

Hebert says Nelson was pulling the boat to shallow waters, but once the wind caught it, it was pushed out again causing him to attempt to leave the boat.

”I don’t know if he decided to get out of the boat or not but it looked like he was going to jump in, but I think he slipped when he stepped on the seat and he fell in the water and I didn’t see him after that,” he said.

Officials say that the Vermont State Police will take over the search Tuesday.

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