Search planned for bodies of missing men

Family conducting their own searches for Walter Mead and Sean Pickering

Walter Mead

Walter Mead

PORT TOWNSEND — A renewed search could begin as early as today for the bodies of two men who are presumed dead after failing to return from checking on crab pots in Kilisut Harbor off Marrowstone Island.

The 12-foot aluminum skiff that Chimacum residents Walter Mead, 59, and Sean Pickering, 42, had been using washed up on the beach at Fort Flagler Historical State Park on Saturday morning, said Joe Inciong, Pickering’s brother-in-law.

Subsequent searches have failed to locate the men.

“We’re not believing in a rescue anymore,” Inciong said. “We’re just hoping for a recovery at this point so the family can get closure and we can put them to rest. ”

Salish Rescue, a volunteer search-and-rescue nonprofit based in Port Townsend, was working Wednesday to borrow a side-scan sonar system from a Brinnon-area research vessel that it could use to scan the floor of the harbor between the crab pots and the shoreline, said Erik Wennstrom, the nonprofit’s education coordinator and operations lead.

That search could begin as soon as Thursday, he said, and if the bodies are found, the sheriff’s office would likely dive to recover them.

Mead and Pickering set out just before 6 p.m. Friday night from the Mumby Road home of Inciong and Dawn Mead, which has beach access to Kilisut Harbor, to check on crab pots some 300-400 yards from shore, said Inciong, who added that the task can take at least a couple of hours.

“As it got dark, we went down to look, but they weren’t there,” he said, noting that he scanned the water with a flashlight. “I thought maybe there was a chance they got blown into the beach and hunkered down to wait for the wind to die.”

After dark, a neighbor to the north reported seeing a capsized skiff in the water, Jefferson County Sheriff Joe Nole said.

Inciong’s step daughter, Hanah Mead, called 9-1-1 at about 8:15 p.m. to report the two men missing, saying they did not have a cell phone with them, Nole said.

Sean Pickering

Sean Pickering

At sunrise Saturday morning, Inciong said he went down to the beach to continue looking.

Inciong found the skiff washed up on the beach near the RV camping area at Fort Flagler and spotted float devices and other gear washed up along the sand spit.

After that, several groups — the sheriff’s office, the U.S. Coast Guard and Salish Rescue — initiated searches of the area, with the Coast Guard sending a boat from Seattle and a helicopter from Port Angeles, according to Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Clark, a Coast Guard public affairs specialist.

Wennstrom said his team sent a Zodiac boat to the area at 8:30 a.m. and followed it up with two more at about 11 a.m.

“If they were adrift, they could have gone several miles, so we had to search that entire area,” Wennstrom said, noting they searched shorelines in Kilisut Harbor, Oak Bay and Port Townsend Bay.

“There are a lot of areas along Indian Island that have overhanging trees and rocks, so we had to get in pretty close. It was good that we had our small boats to do that.”

By Saturday evening, the Coast Guard suspended its search pending the discovery of any new evidence, Clark said.

Salish Rescue stopped searching on Sunday, Wennstrom said.

However, family, friends and area residents have continued to comb local beaches on foot and by boat each day, Inciong said.

“We’ve been meeting here at my house daily now and conducting our own searches,” Inciong said. “Although we’ve covered the same beaches several times now, we’re still covering them in hopes that the tide brings them in.”

The crab pots are located too far off shore to swim back without falling victim to the cold water, Wennstrom said.

“In water that cold, if they weren’t wearing life jackets,” he said, “there’s not much chance of making it back.”

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Jefferson County senior reporter Nicholas Johnson can be reached by phone at 360-417-3509 or by email at [email protected].

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