Recovery Search Ongoing for NH Native Who Went Overboard off Coast of Maine

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Edward H. Berke, 31, a resident of New Haven, Conn., is a native of Bow, N.H.

FALMOUTH, Maine – Island search and water recovery efforts were ongoing Saturday offshore in Casco Bay for a New Hampshire native and former Bow resident who went overboard on the evening of the Fourth of July and is still missing.

Edward H. Berke, 31, a resident of New Haven, Conn. who graduated from Bow High School, is missing after falling into the chilly waters about 7 p.m. Thursday as a passenger on a 21-foot private motor vessel “Ternina,” being operated between Chebeague Island and South Portland by Benjamin Woodbury, a resident of the Portland area and considered one of Berke’s best friends.

Berke’s father, Bruce Berke, is managing partner with Sheehan Phinney Capital Group and a well-known, long-time lobbyist in Concord.

Authorities said the two men and the two women left Chebeague Island after dinner and were headed south to Spring Point Marina in South Portland, Maine, when the passengers discovered him missing.

He was last seen sitting in the stern of the boat and the other passengers were near the bow.

“…passengers were unaware Berke had fallen overboard until approximately 15 minutes after the incident occurred, they thought he had gone below deck,” according to the Coast Guard.

The water temperature there, according to the National Weather Service, is 57 degrees.

The passengers told authorities they believed Berke fell overboard while they were transiting in the vicinity of Clapboard Island, and within about a half mile swim of that island. 

His flip flop sandals were found floating in the water about two hours after he was reported missing, helping to focus the search in that area, but the search area extended the full distance of travel from the discovery point and covered 350 square miles.

The call for help elicited a massive effort to find him by air and water by numerous agencies who were already in the area for fireworks patrols and were immediately diverted from those duties, according to local officials.

The initial search included a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter dispatched from Air Station Cape Cod, Maine Marine Patrol, a Portland Fire Boat, Falmouth Police Boat, Yarmouth Police Boat, Portland Harbor Master, Long Island Fire and Rescue and the Cape Elizabeth Wet team.

Additionally, with many vessels in the water due to the holiday and fireworks, an Urgent Marine Broadcast Notice was issued every 15-20 minutes to all marine radio users on VHF Ch. 16 notifying them to be on the lookout for an overboard passenger with his description, albeit at least 15 minutes after he was last seen aboard the “Ternina.”

The Coast Guard located one of his flip flop sandals and the Portland Harbormaster located the second both in the area closest to Clapboard Island off and just to the north of Falmouth Harbor and south of Cousins Island. 

Clapboard Island is a remote, 15-acre island, with two private homes, and a nature preserve and hiking trails. It is rockbound and covered with trees.

At about 10:30 a.m. Friday, after searching throughout the night, the Coast Guard called off the water search, given the water temperature and time, as a body can only swim in that temperature a maximum of about six hours. 

Captain Matt Baker, U.S. Coast Guard Commander of Sector Northern New England who made the “difficult decision” to suspend active searching wrote in an email “I consider many factors, including the extent of the searches completed, the air and water temperatures, and the survival gear available to the missing person.

“…given those factors, at 11:00 Friday I did not believe there was any chance that we would find Mr. Berke alive – hence the decision to suspend the search.”

The matter then transferred into a recovery search mission with the Coast Guard exiting and leaving the command with the Maine Marine Patrol.

Hope is that Berke swam to Clapboard Island or one of the many rocky and remote outcroppings in the area now being scoured.

Friday’s daylight search focused on Clapboard Island with no sign of him.

Officials said teams were using drones which can fly over the shoreline and a specialized drone that can go underwater with a camera. 

The depth of water in the primary search area is between 50 and 100 feet, officials said.

Thermal imaging both from the helicopter and drones deployed Thursday night were unsuccessful in locating Berke in the water.

Fog, which enveloped the shoreline and islands on Friday night, forced a cancellation of nighttime recovery efforts Friday at 5 p.m. but officials said there were plans on Saturday morning to resume the search at 7 a.m.

Berke was a standout athlete in hockey and soccer at Bow High School and graduated from St. Lawrence University in New York State in 2015. He graduated from Iowa State University with a master of science degree in economic geology and is currently working as a hydrogeological consultant with the firm Fuss & O’Neill in New Haven, Conn.

He and a friend were visiting Woodbury, a Yarmouth, (Maine) High School graduate who also graduated St. Lawrence University in 2015 and is a digital marketing specialist for Advanced Instruments LLC in Westbrook, Maine, which serves the biopharmaceutical, clinical and food and beverage industries, according to his LinkedIn account.

The two men lived in Jackson, Wyoming for a time before Berke went to work in Colorado and then graduate school and Woodbury to pursue a digital marketing and business career.

Berke has a younger brother, Hunter, a resident of Charlotte, N.C., who was at home visiting with his parents, Nancy and Bruce in Bow for the holiday. 

Coast Guard officials said they were at the Portland headquarters hours after the call for help and have remained in Maine for the search and rescue which is ongoing at press time.

The staging area for the recovery and land search is now in Falmouth Harbor.

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