By Lisa Scagliotti and Madeline Hughes
Vermont State Police divers using sonar discovered the body Wednesday of a New Jersey man who was missing since July 2 when his kayak capsized on Lake Champlain.
The Vermont chief medical examiner’s office completed an autopsy today and identified the remains as those of Eric Plett of Weehawken, N.J. The cause and manner of death were determined to be an accidental drowning, officials said.
Plett disappeared July 2 around 7 p.m. near Rock Dunder off Shelburne Point. His kayak overturned and he was not wearing a life jacket at the time, police said.
In a statement Wednesday evening, Vermont State Police said its Marine Unit and dive team recovered a body near Shelburne Point that they believed was Plett.
“Yesterday, sonar picked up a target on the (lake) bottom,” Vermont state police spokesman Adam Silverman said today. “It was in the search area where we were looking the whole time – off Shelburne Point near Rock Dunder.”
The remains were taken to the medical examiner for positive identification and to determine the cause of death.
The discovery Wednesday came nine days after the boating accident when Plett was seen clinging to his overturned kayak but disappeared before anyone could reach him.
Shelburne Police, Vermont State Police, U.S. Coast Guard, Shelburne Fire and Rescue and Charlotte Rescue participated in the 807-square mile search. Helicopters from the Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection also aided the effort, officials said.
“Vermont State Police continued water searches during daylight hours with two-three vessels each day for nine days,” said state police Sgt. Trevor Carbo, Marine Division Commander and SCUBA team leader. “The day-to-day operations changed depending on the weather.”
On Tuesday, New York State Police added a second vessel equipped with sonar to work alongside the Vermont search team, Carbo said.
Silverman said it was that effort the succeeded Wednesday in locating what was confirmed today to be Plett’s body. Silverman said he did not know the depth where the body was found.
Silverman noted that many agencies were involved in the search effort and public information may have been confusing as to whether the search was continual over the entire period. After the initial response, he explained, the Coast Guard and local search teams ended their efforts, leaving the state police team to continue to search.
“We never left the water. This was a continuous operation,” Silverman said. “Other agencies stepped back but we kept it up.”
State police also communicated with Plett’s family every day, Silverman said. “We let them know we were doing everything possible… on the holiday over the weekend. We didn’t stop until we found him.”
In an unrelated incident also last week, Vermont State Police on July 6 recovered the body of a man who died in a boating accident in southern Vermont.
Thomas Flood, 61, of Schenectady, N.Y., died on Lake St. Catherine in Poultney. Flood also was not wearing a life jacket when he fell from a boat on July 5. The lake waters were choppy and his wife, who was on the boat with him at the time, was unable to rescue him.
As a reminder to everyone venturing onto the water, Shelburne Police Cpl. Jon Marcoux said: “The No. 1 thing is to wear a life jacket.”