A preliminary report on the deaths of two anglers on the opening day of the Chesapeake Bay rockfish season says all six persons aboard the boat that capsized off Point Lookout had life vests, but not all wore them, according to the Maryland Natural Resources Police.
David Fletcher, 43, and David Chase, 55, both of Lexington Park in Southern Maryland, died Saturday morning when a friend's fishing boat took on water and capsized. Four persons, including the owner-operator of the boat, were rescued.
"All occupants were given life vests, but not all of them put them on," said Sgt. Brian Albert, spokesman for the Maryland Natural Resources Police, quoting Sunday from the NRP's preliminary report.
Albert said the NRP had not yet determined what made the boat capsize.
At the time of the mishap, waves of three to five feet were in the area, about two miles south of Point Lookout State Park, where the Potomac River empties into the bay, one of the widest points of the Chesapeake.
Initial reports gave the boat's length as 24 or 25 feet. Sunday, Albert described the boat as a 201/2-foot Wellcraft with a center console and outboard motor.
Albert said the operator of the boat made a phone call for help. The Coast Guard, the NRP and the Ridge and Valley Lee volunteer fire companies from St. Mary's County, as well as a rescue unit from the Patuxent Naval Air Station, joined in the rescue at about 9:30 a.m.
The survivors were taken to St. Mary's Hospital in Leonardtown. Some were suffering from hypothermia and first responders administered CPR, according to the Ridge Volunteer Fire Department.
Albert said the NRP had possession of the boat and was checking its hull and mechanics. Efforts to reach the boat's owner, members of the fishing party or their relatives were not successful.
The accident occurred on one of the most anticipated days on the Maryland sportfishing calendar — when, starting at 5:01 a.m., anglers are allowed to catch and keep a "trophy" rockfish, or striped bass, one of at least 28 inches in length. On Saturday, with waters rough and winds strong, fewer anglers took to the bay and many of those who did called it quits after a few hours of fishing, according to a Department of Natural Resources official.
In most years, the opening of the 45-day season in the mainstem of the Chesapeake is for anglers what opening day is for Orioles fans at Camden Yards. Hundreds of boats carry anglers to the fishing grounds between the upper bay and the Virginia line, and certain locations become relatively congested.
Neighbors and fishing friends make plans weeks in advance to spend the day on the water together while Chesapeake charter boat captains keep standing dates with longtime customers.
However, some law enforcement officers and veteran boaters call the third Saturday in April "amateur hour," when anglers fire up the engines on long-idled boats for a dash to traditional fishing holes.
Albert of the NRP emphasized the need for boaters and Chesapeake anglers to wear Coast Guard-approved life jackets. Maryland law requires children under the age of 13, in a boat of less than 21 feet in length, to wear a life jacket when the vessel is underway.
Albert pointed to a Coast Guard report that showed drowning as the cause of death in three out of four recreational boating fatalities; more than 80 percent of the victims were not wearing life vests.
Baltimore Sun reporter Candus Thomson contributed to this article.