PROSPECT – Bitter cold weather and high winds forced the Marine Patrol to suspend its search for the body of a teenage boy who leaped from the Penobscot Narrows Bridge into the Penobscot River Monday night.
Lt. Alan Talbot said that the combination of strong wind gusts and subzero temperatures made it unsafe to attempt to search for the youth, whom authorities believe is a 17-year-old male from Hancock County.
“It’s too cold, too windy,” Talbot said Tuesday. “I don’t see it happening until the weather gets better. It’s got to warm up before we can do anything.”
Waldo County Chief Deputy Sheriff Robert Keating said three witnesses observed the boy go over the side shortly after 7 p.m.
“They reported seeing a male with no shirt on climb over the rail and go into the water,” Keating said Tuesday.
One witness told police that he was traveling west across the bridge toward Prospect and saw a young male without a shirt lying down in the median between the lanes. The man said he stopped his vehicle and watched as the youth stood up and started walking toward the side of the bridge.
Keating said the witness got within a few feet of the boy and saw him hanging from the railing. He said that when he told the boy not to do it, the boy let go and dropped the 150 feet into the water. Keating said investigators were “pretty sure” who the boy was but had no plans to release his identity at this time.
The U.S. Coast Guard broadcast an alert to mariners Monday night describing the person seen jumping from the bridge as a teenage male approximately 5 feet 7 inches tall weighing 180 pounds and wearing bluejeans and no shirt.
Sheriff’s deputies from Waldo and Hancock counties, the Stockton Springs Police Department rushed to the scene. A plow truck driver from Stockton Springs was the first to arrive at the bridge and he also observed the boy go into the river, Keating said.
The Bucksport Fire Department launched a boat to search the area and the Coast Guard and Marine Patrol dispatched boats from Rockland to assist in the search. Talbot said the weather was poor Monday night and that the boats and the men aboard were covered in icy spray while conducting the search. He said the search was suspended at 11:30 p.m.
Talbot said authorities were back at the scene at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday to conduct a search of the shore. He said authorities also climbed the 420-foot-high observation tower on the Prospect side of the bridge to scan the waters below. He said Marine Patrol searchers and divers would return to the river once the weather improved.
“We’ll be doing the best we can when the conditions allow,” he said.
Keating said the Waldo County and Hancock County sheriff’s offices were working together on the investigation. He said the Hancock County department had received a report of a missing male juvenile who failed to return home from school Monday afternoon and were trying to determine if both incidents were related.
The $85 million bridge, which replaced the Waldo-Hancock Bridge built in 1931, spans the Penobscot River between the Waldo County town of Prospect and the Hancock County town of Verona Island. Under construction for nearly three years, the 2,120-foot span opened to traffic on Dec. 30. The travel deck is 155 feet from the river at high tide, which came at 11:55 p.m. Monday.