WILDWOOD — The multi-agency search continues this morning for a decorated Middle Township police officer who may have fallen off his sport-fishing boat Monday morning.
Patrolman Jason Sill, 39, of Cape May Court House, was last seen aboard his 23-foot Navy blue center-console boat Rock-n-Reel at about 11 a.m. leaving the Pier 47 Marina in Middle Township.
Nobody knows what happened just a short time later. Fishermen aboard a 70-foot sport-fishing boat came across the empty boat at about noon one mile offshore, noticed nobody was aboard and called the Coast Guard.
“The keys were in the ignition, the throttle was in forward and the engine was in the down position. We launched a helicopter crew and a boat crew,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Nick Ameen.
The Coast Guard's search continued overnight, Ameen said.
"The search never stops," Ameen said. "It's still an open search and we're working alongside New Jersey State Police."
State Police Sgt. Brian Polite said that their part of the search resumed Tuesday morning.
Warm ocean temperatures, about 77 degrees, kept hopes that Sill, a 13-year department veteran, is still alive especially if he is wearing a life preserver. The Coast Guard is not sure whether he had one on but survival time is at the highest levels in warm water.
A helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, a boat from Station Cape May, and two boats from the New Jersey State Marine Police, and a Middle Township Police boat were all part of the search. Local fire companies and beach patrols also took part.
State Police used side-scan sonar to search the waters and also dispatched a dive team to where the boat was originally located. The boat was towed by State Police to Station Cape May where investigators combed it for clues.
Middle Township Police Capt. John Edwards said Sill last worked on Sunday and was off Monday.
Sill regularly fishes on the boat, which was found with two fishing poles on it. He said he thought Sill used a safety device that kills the engine if the operator falls overboard; such devices are recommended for anglers fishing alone.
Polite and Ameen did not know if the engine was running when the vessel was found.
Edwards asked the media to respect the family during this time and not contact them. He said Sill has a wife, Madonna, and a daughter who live in Lower Township.
“We’re with the family trying to comfort them. We’ll address the whole department tomorrow,” Edwards said.
Sill, a Middle Township High School graduate, was honored in 2000 for saving the life of a Burleigh woman who was unconscious when he found her suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. He broke a window to get into the mobile home and pulled Mary Tregrove to safety.
Also that year, Sill jumped in the water to help save a man who drove his van off the Scotch Bonnet Bridge.
Falling off a boat is not uncommon. National Coast Guard statistics from 2011 show there were 4,588 boating accidents that led to 3,081 injuries and 758 deaths.
The Coast Guard assembled five accident types including a collision with another recreational vessel, flooding, collision with a fixed object, a water skiing mishap, and falling overboard. The most deaths, 205, were caused by falling overboard.
The second most was a boat getting swamped at 89 fatalities.
Falling overboard also caused 157 injuries last year.
Adults are not required to wear life jackets but the Coast Guard strongly advises them. Coast Guard statistics from 2011 showed that 70 percent of fatal boating accidents involved drowning and 84 percent of the victims were not wearing life jackets.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, recommends that fishermen wear safety lines, install high guard rails around the deck, use non-skid materials for the deck, keep decks clear to prevent tripping, conduct man overboard drills, permit nobody on deck alone and make sure more than one person on the vessel can operate it.
A kill switch device connected to the operator can turn the engine off if the operator falls overboard. It can still be difficult to get back on the boat. Some recommend tying figure-eight loops of rope off the hull to have something to grab onto to pull oneself back on the boat.
Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay put out a marine broadcast asking boaters to be on the lookout for somebody in the water. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Coast Guard at 215-271-4940.
Contact Richard Degener: