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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Search for students update: March 14, 4:30 p.m.

Media Contact: URI Communications, 401-874-2116

Evening Media Briefing
March 14, 4:30 p.m. University of Rhode Island, Narragansett Bay Campus
Contact: Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Wickford Marine Base, 401-222-2284

Briefing Panel: U.S. 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

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. - March 14, 2006 - The U. S. Coast Guard will formally suspend search and rescue operations for the three missing University of Rhode Island students at sunset today, March 14.

As the transition for jurisdiction proceeded to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management's Enforcement Division, the Coast Guard and the supporting public safety agencies are closing the command post that has been based at the University of Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay Campus since Monday morning.

"More than 175 individuals from all of the cooperating agencies have been participating in the largest marine search effort in Rhode Island waters in the last 15 years," said Chief Steve Hall, of the DEM's Enforcement Division.

The Rhode Island environmental agency has assumed the lead for the recovery effort, with support from the Rhode Island State Police, the Narragansett Police and the Coast Guard.

Rhode Island DEM and the other public safety agencies will resume patrols Wednesday morning at reduced intensity.

Throughout the day today, the Coast Guard, State Police, the state DEM, Narragansett police and fire departments, and the Jamestown police and fire departments have conducted an extensive, coordinated search from the air, the shoreline and the water.

Jamestown authorities completed a sweep of the town's shoreline from Beavertail to the Jamestown Bridge, while dive teams from the State and Narragansett police searched the waters of the West Passage of Narragansett Bay.

Other resources deployed today were:
-- Coast Guard--41-foot utility boat out of the Castle Hill Station in Newport and a Jayhawk helicopter from the Coast Guard Air Station on Cape Cod.
-- U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, Blackhawk helicopter.
-- Rhode Island Airport Corp. helicopter.
-- 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 and dive team.
-- The University has maintained a full staff presence throughout the day today from its Student Affairs and Counseling Center to assist families and students affected by accident.
-- The Salvation Army's canteen truck was at the URI Narragansett Bay Campus, providing food and drinks to search teams and family members.

"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. Proper 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.

All from Rhode Island, the missing students have been identified as Geoffrey M. Wilkes of Glocester, Daniel P. Donahue of Glocester, and Fandia M. Shloul of Pawtucket. The University is providing counseling for family members and friends.

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

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.