A State Police officer frisks an unidentified man early Sunday morning while another shines a flashlight on him. Below, a woman who had been on one of the boats sits in an ambulance. (Photos by Dustin Racioppi. Click to enlarge)
More than two hours after the 11:30 p.m. crash, a massive rescue operation involving two helicopters and boats from numerous jurisdictions turned into a search for a body in the darkened river.
At dawn, however, the search boats appeared to end their task, and a phalanx of emergency vehicles parked on land departed without word about whether the missing boater had been found.
Eleven people were believed to have survived the crash, and soon came ashore at the residence of Richard Stavola on Northover Place, a loop off Navesink River Road in Middletown. According to an unconfirmed report, the missing boater was a man about 50 years old.
At about 1:45 a.m., State Police officers on the scene walked a handcuffed man in a white collared shirt and checkered shorts up the property’s long brick driveway, frisked him, and put him in a State Police truck.
Authorities were mum, however, on the reason for the arrest, as well as whatever they knew of the accident. Middletown police referred all inquiries to the State Police, which had assumed command of the operation. A State Trooper told reporters on the scene that that matter was under investigation and that they should “call headquarters Monday morning.”
A aural witness to the accident told redbankgreen what she heard and saw immediately afterward.
Amanda Lynn, of Grange Avenue in Fair Haven, said she was sitting with her dog on a bench overlooking the river at the north end of her street nearly opposite Northover Place when she said she heard the engine of a single boat traveling east. She said she heard a crash, and thought the boat had struck a buoy.
“I stood up, and saw a boat start going around in circles, and heard people yelling for someone,” Lynn said. “I knew something was happening.”
She ran to a nearby house and had someone call 911. A Monmouth County dispatcher told the caller that a numerous reports of the accident had already come in, Lynn said.
A first aid responder on the scene in Marine Park in Red Bank, where numerous emergency personnel gathered for several hours after the accident, told redbankgreen that callers had reported hearing “a hell of a crash.”
The reports triggered a massive response involving fireboats from Red Bank, Fair Haven, Middletown, the State Police Marine unit and other jurisdictions. Divers from Red Bank, Highlands and Howell took turns searching the darkened river, which was flat calm.
Two helicopters repeatedly swept the river and its banks for signs of the missing boater, cutting through the thick, hot night with beams of light.
“It was like a movie out here last night,” said a tender on the Oceanic Bridge.
Meantime, three women wrapped in blankets sat inside a Middletown first aid ambulance, and were later transferred to a Red Bank ambulance that had recently arrived.
At least a dozen neighbors stopped at the scene at different moments to see what was happening, but officials offered nothing because, many said, they knew nothing.
At Marine Park a half-dozen ambulances joined a fire department ladder truck that shone a bright light onto the water while onlookers gathered on a waterfront promenade. In Fair Haven, rescue squad personnel stood at the ready at Grange Avenue.
(Dustin Racioppi contributed to this article)