Searchers were still looking Tuesday for a Middle Township police officer whose 23-foot boat was found empty and adrift Monday one mile off Wildwood.
State Police suspended their search for Jason Sill, 39, about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and will resume searching this morning, said Sgt. Brian Polite, a spokesman. There was no success and few answers about what happened at sea.
Workers at Pier 47 Marina said there was no indication of any problems when Sill left Monday morning. His boat is kept indoors on a rack, and he had called ahead to have it put in the water, said marina owner Rick Traber, who said Sill has been boating out of the marina for about six years. Traber said there was nothing unusual that morning.
“The guys on the dock said he was his normal self, pretty friendly. He enjoyed fishing and relaxing on his boat. He went out a couple times a week with his wife (Madonna) or friends,” Traber said.
Sill did not file what is known as a “float plan,” which describes the boating plan for the day just in case of an emergency and is recommended by the Coast Guard, but Traber said few file such plans. Authorities were also unsure whether Sill was wearing a life preserver.
Traber said everybody at the marina was hoping for a positive outcome.
“I think everybody is hoping for a miracle, but I don’t know,” Traber said.
State Police investigators found nothing suspicious after performing a forensic evidence search on Sill’s boat, which was was found with the key in the ignition, two fishing poles still on deck, the throttle in the forward position, and the outboard engine in the water but not running.
There had been speculation that Sill, of Cape May Court House, fell off the boat while it was underway, but then the engine probably would have still been on.
“It was not on. I don’t know at this point whether it had mechanical problems or ran out of gas,” said State Police Lt. Stephen Jones.
Another mystery is how the boat, called the Rock-n-Reel, ended up in the ocean. Before Sill left the marina in Middle Township at about 9:30 a.m. Monday, he told people he was going to fish in the back bays, State Police said. He left the pier by himself and the boat was found by anglers aboard another boat in the ocean at 10:45 a.m.
What happened between 9:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. remained a mystery Tuesday.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions right now, and we hope to get them answered,” said Middle Township police Chief Chris Leusner.
Sill, who is married and has one child, is a decorated 13-year veteran of the department who is credited with helping save the lives of at least two people.
Leusner said it is a tough time for the department and the family.
“We’re trying to support the Sill family as best we can, and we’re gratified for all the agencies who have been involved trying to locate him,” Leusner said.
The State Police searched with boats Tuesday using side-scan sonar to comb the ocean floor. Coast Guard Cutter Mako from Station Cape May and a helicopter from Air Station Atlantic City joined in the search. Beach patrols from Wildwood, North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest sent out lifeguards on personal watercraft.
Even some private boaters helped out. Rob Pellini, of Avalon, after asking the Coast Guard if it needed help, boarded the boat Irish Eyes and searched along the coast from Hereford Inlet to Cape May Inlet from 1 to 6 p.m. The Middle Township and Avalon police departments also searched. The Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office and Office of Emergency Management were involved.
State Police and Middle Township dive teams were on standby ready to go into the water if needed. Most of the search was conducted in waters 20 to 30 feet deep.
Authorities planned to continue the search today, but even with high summertime water temperatures, about 77 degrees, at some point there is no chance of survival.
Polite said Tuesday he was not ready to call it a body-recovery operation.
“Right now, it’s still considered a search,” Polite said.
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