Saturday, November 28, 2015

Search underway for missing boater in Longport

Gallery: Search underway for missing boater in Longport

Coast Guard and state police boats continued searching Monday for an experienced powerboat racer who disappeared late Sunday when his pontoon boat apparently hit a buoy and then slammed into a jetty at the southern tip of Longport.

Officials identified the missing boater as Andrew Biddle, 44, of Egg Harbor Township.

According to a 2012 Atlantic City Press article, Biddle and Andrew Tracy Blumenstein had set a  record and zoomed to the top of the season standings that year in the in the P1 SuperStock powerboat U.S. championship series.

Coast Guard boats focused their search Monday near bayside buoys and state police said they interviewing a survivor of the crash, Justin Belz, 23, of Marmora.

Dan Cronin, who has a home facing the bay in Longport, said he was on his deck Sunday night around 11:30 when he saw the pontoon boat and heard a boom.

"The boat was moving along. I could see they were going full throttle," he said. "A boat of that type would go about 20-22 mph at maximum speed."

"All of a sudden we heard, 'boom' and then heard someone in the water yelling, 'Help, help save me!' "

They called 911 and ran out with towels as the survivor came out of the water near the jetty at the Point, the tip of Longport. "He was shaking, not hurt at all," Cronin said. 

He said the survivor was wearing a hoodie sweatshirt and had no life jacket.

The boat, meanwhile, continued moving. "I saw the boat still going, making like a wide circle, headed straight for the rocks," Cronin said.

He said the survivor said the driver knocked into him after they struck a buoy and may have been knocked out. 

The survivor told those who came to his aid they were coming from the Baia Restaurant on the waterfront in Somers Point.

"At first he was calm," Cronin said. "Then he turned around and said, 'Where's my friend Andy?' "

The buoys are not lit, but boaters should be aware of that, Cronin said.

Mayor Nick Russo of Longport said he believed the boat sustained damage and that speed may have been a factor.

"The dangers of the water command respect," he said, appearing briefly at the scene of the search Monday morning. 

At Sea Village Marina on the Margate Bridge Causeway, employees said the owner, a close friend of Biddle, was aiding in the search. They declined to talk about Biddle or the accident. "We're still trying to put it together," one said.

State police said investigators were interviewing Belz Monday afternoon.

Coast Guard Petty Officer David Marin said Coast Guard and local crews began the search after receiving a call from Little Egg Harbor Township police about 11:30 p.m. Sunday.

"We’ve had multiple boat crews from the Coast Guard station in Atlantic City as well as helicopter crews," Marin said. 

Inquirer Staff Writer
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