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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Search for Students, March 14, 2006

Media Contact: URI Communications, 401-874-2116

Search Briefing, with Coast Guard Cmdr. Peter Martin, response department chief, Sector Southeastern New England; Chief David Smith, Narragansett Police and Chief Steve Hall, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Enforcement

8:30 a.m. University of Rhode Island, Narragansett Bay Campus

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. -- March 14, 2006 -- The Coast Guard along with other Rhode Island agencies are continuing the search for the missing University of Rhode Island students throughout the day until sunset.

The Coast Guard will be searching with a 41-foot utility boat from the Castle Hill Station and HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Cape Cod.

Other assisting agencies are providing:

• State Police, one marine boat with divers and its K-9 unit
• Narragansett Fire Department, one inflatable boat conducting shoreline search
• Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, searching with three vessels
• Narragansett Police with one vessel
• The University is maintaining a full staff presence from its Student Affairs and Counseling Center to assist families and students affected.

“The University is heartened by the outstanding response from the Coast Guard, and all state and local public safety agencies,” said URI Vice President for Student Affairs Thomas Dougan. “The families and students affected by this terrible situation have our full support and sympathies.”

The Coast Guard emphasized the importance of being properly prepared for small vessel operations, particularly during the colder months when the threat of hypothermia is greatest. Preparation includes having the proper personal protective clothing for cold weather and survival equipment immediately available as well as communications and distress signaling equipment. In addition, vessel operations in low visibility conditions require a high degree of expertise and navigational skill.

Cmdr. Peter Martin, Coast Guard response department chief, Sector Southeastern New England, said search efforts had continued through the night in the Narragansett Bay with the Rhode Island based Coast Guard Cutter Tiger Shark, an 87-foot patrol boat, despite visibility limited to 150 feet.

Martin said DEM, along with Narragansett Police, are continuing the investigation of the incident.

“There has been a great deal of discussion among the agencies involved in the search, and it is felt that we can no longer be optimistic about this being a rescue operation,” Martin said. “With water temperatures around 42 degrees, survivability is limited.”

All from Rhode Island, the missing students have been identified as Geoffrey M.Wilkes of Glocester, Daniel P. Donahue of Glocester, and Fandia Shloul of Pawtucket. The University is providing counseling for family members and friends. (Note to editors, reporters: Donahue’s hometown has been changed from Smithfield to Glocester at the family’s request.)

At 4 a.m., March 13, a URI security officer heard voices on the water while patrolling in the area of the University’s research vessel, the Endeavor. The security officer called to the group, but could not see the individuals because of thick fog.

The security officer called URI and Narragansett Police, who notified the Coast Guard, which began the search immediately.

Police said the students were at a small party at a Bonnet Shores home in Narragansett when they left at about 2:30 a.m. They left in a small boat equipped with two oars, but no lifejackets. Police said friends attempted to prevent them from leaving. Martin said today that oars, a ballcap and a sandal were recovered near the boat.

The Coast Guard located an empty boat at about 5:50 a.m. Monday morning.

Since dawn yesterday, the Coast Guard searched the waters of the West Passage, and it deployed three small boats. A 41-foot vessel from the Castle Hill station in Newport and a 47-foot vessel from Pt. Judith are also part of the search. A Coast Guard helicopter from its air station on Cape Cod also joined the search.

Narragansett Police and the Narragansett Fire Department joined the search with their boats.
On Monday, the Rhode Island State Police deployed a boat equipped with sonar, and a dive team, while the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Police have three boats, one equipped with sonar in the search as well.

URI Ocean Engineering Professor Malcolm Spaulding, an expert on ocean currents, has also provided computer models to assist in the search.