Searches continue for missing Jefferson County men

Efforts complicated by shallow waters, shifting weather

PORT TOWNSEND — Shallow waters, short days and shifting weather conditions continue to plague ongoing search efforts for two men who are presumed dead after they went missing Oct. 9 while checking crab pots in Kilisut Harbor off Marrowstone Island.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and Salish Rescue, a Port Townsend-based search-and-rescue nonprofit, continue to search this week for Chimacum residents Walter Mead, 59, and Sean Pickering, 42, but they have yet to find new evidence of their whereabouts.

“About a third of that area in the north part of Kilisut Harbor is very shallow,” said Libby Wennstrom, chair of Salish Rescue’s board of directors, adding that those shallow areas have not yet been fully searched.

Last week, Salish Rescue searched the north end of the harbor using a borrowed side-scan sonar system towed behind one of its Zodiacs but was unable to access the shallowest areas without damaging its system.

On Tuesday, members of the sheriff’s office searched the same area with a sonar system attached to their boat, said Sgt. Brett Anglin.

That search was unsuccessful, but Anglin said they plan to continue searching the shallowest areas with a drone sometime in the next seven days depending on weather.

“We’re trying to find good low-tide times during daylight hours with good weather,” he said. “During a clear day with no wind, you can see 10 feet down with a drone, but as you start getting a few waves, it really limits your visibility.”

Salish Rescue students spent two hours late in the day Monday searching the harbor with the three Zodiac boats, one of which ventured out to Marrowstone Point, Wennstrom said.

Because Mead and Pickering are not believed to have been wearing life jackets, she said, it’s possible their bodies eventually floated back to the surface and drifted out of the harbor.

“Looking at the drift models, we figured they could have gotten out of the harbor,” she said.

Salish Rescue students will continue searching every other day as part of their search-and-rescue training, Wennstrom said. She added that Salish Rescue also is trying to get a lit underwater video camera to better search shallow areas of the harbor.

“We’re trying to see if we can borrow one rather than buy one,” she said. “That will help narrow down some possible targets we’d hit with the sonar last week.”

Mead and Pickering have been missing since they set out just before 6 p.m. Oct. 9 from Joe Inciong and Dawn Mead’s Marrowstone Island home on Mumby Road, which has beach access to Kilisut Harbor, to check on crab pots some 300 yards to 400 yards from shore, said Inciong, Pickering’s brother-in-law.

At sunrise the next morning, Inciong found the men’s 12-foot aluminum skiff washed ashore on the beach at Fort Flagler Historical State Park, north of the crab pots and Inciong’s home.

The sheriff’s office, the U.S. Coast Guard and Salish Rescue initiated extensive searches of the area that day.

Family members have continued searching by boat and by foot since then.

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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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