Tugboat worker’s body found

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 15, 2005

WINDSOR – The body of a Pennsylvania man, reported missing Jan. 2 off a tugboat operating on the Chowan River, was discovered early Wednesday morning near Mt. Gould in Bertie County.

At approximately 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday, a dive team from Beaufort County pulled the body of 24-year-old Aaron Drew Cahill from the river. Cahill apparently fell overboard on Jan. 2 as the tugboat made its way south after leaving the Nucor Steel Plate Mill.

Bertie County Sheriff Greg Atkins stated there was no foul play involved. He said drowning was the cause of death.

Following an exhaustive search for Kahill by law enforcement officers and specialized teams from both Bertie and Chowan counties, Atkins turned to technology to find the missing man.

Armed with side scan sonar, a device that gives a detailed sketch of what lies along the bottom of a body of water, search teams came from Craven County and the Norfolk (Va.) Harbor Patrol. At first, neither encountered any luck, but one set of circumstances finally led to the discovery of Cahill’s body.

&uot;The Harbor Patrol team did an admirable job, but the operator of their side scan sonar unit told me he was experiencing some trouble getting an accurate reading,&uot; said Atkins. &uot;He said he would take all the images recorded by the unit back with him to Norfolk and study them further.&uot;

Meanwhile, Stanley Kite, the Emergency Management Coordinator in Craven County who had earlier scanned the river bottom using the side scan sonar process, had an inkling that a second search in calmer waters would prove successful.

&uot;Stanley called on Tuesday of this week and told me to meet him at the river later that day and we’d go back out when the water had calmed down a bit,&uot; Atkins said. &uot;Before I met with Stanley, I received a call from the sonar operator with the Harbor Patrol. He told me his closer study of the images may include a body, but he needed to let someone else see that image for verification.&uot;

The Sheriff said he asked the Harbor Patrol for the river coordinates from where the image was noted.

&uot;I punched those coordinates into my hand-held GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) unit and then went and met Stanley,&uot; Atkins stated. &uot;Stanley is one of the best around in his line of work and our second outing on the river was a success as he was able to locate the body. When the sonar made contact, he could tell by the shape of the image that we had found what we were looking for. I then looked at my GPS unit and we were right on the same coordinates given to me by the Harbor Patrol.&uot;

To prevent any delays in recovering the body, Atkins placed a call to the Sidney Dive Team in Beaufort County.

&uot;Those guys didn’t hesitate,&uot; said the Sheriff. &uot;It was dark and it was cold, but they got out of their beds and came to Bertie County to help. They are a great group, all volunteers who don’t get paid one dime for the service they provide.&uot;

Cahill – whose address is listed in Elizabethtown, Pa. – is believed to fell overboard in the Mt. Gould area of the river. The last time he was seen alive, the tug was near the Colerain area, approximately 5.5 miles upstream from Mt. Gould.

He was not reported missing until the tug had traveled south of the Eden House (US 17) bridge. At that time, according to Atkins, the captain of the boat contacted the Coast Guard and they responded with a helicopter to aid in the search.

Atkins reported that a pair of boots, gloves and hearing protection (headphones), identified as belonging to Cahill, were found later in the day on Jan. 2 in the Mt. Gould area.