Rhode Island officials are investigating a family’s nighttime outing on Mount Hope Bay in May that ended tragically when their open 17-foot motor-
boat capsized, spilling all six into the chilly water. Four people died and two survived, including a 14-year-old boy who swam to shore for help.
Tiverton police and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management are investigating the incident.
The family set out May 7 aboard a 1969 fiberglass boat powered by an 85-hp outboard. They departed Heritage park in Fall River, Mass., to visit friends in nearby Swansea, Mass. Temperatures were in the 80s and conditions were good.
The group set out on the return trip to Fall River later that evening — sometime after 10 p.m. On board were Fall River residents Allen Duarte, 35, his wife Edwina Duarte, 35, their son Christopher Duarte, 14, their nephew James Duarte, 23, Christopher’s aunt Kelleigh Ouellette, 24, and her friend Richard Doehler.
Police say this was probably the family’s first outing of the season, although they reportedly had boating experience.
Police say winds shifted around 11:30 p.m., which would have made conditions difficult for the small vessel. Winds were blowing out of the northwest an estimated 15 to 20 knots, according to the Coast Guard. Seas in Mount Hope Bay were 2 to 4 feet and visibility was clear, according to the Coast Guard.
Investigators are considering the suddenly shifting weather conditions as a factor in the accident, according to Tiverton Police Chief Thomas Blakely.
“The winds were very strong,” Blakely says. They are also considering whether the boat was overloaded.
Authorities say they don’t know the precise location of the capsize. Bodies were found both north and south of the Sakonnet River bridge, according to police. The overturned boat was recovered that night just north of the bridge.
Christopher Duarte, who was wearing a PFD, swam to the shore on the east side, then walked across a shell-covered beach to the home of Dave and Karen Rose. He knocked on the door around 1 a.m. The Roses called police.
The Coast Guard, the Tiverton harbor patrol as well as rescuers from surrounding towns searched the waterway. Allen Duarte was rescued about 20 minutes later and taken to the hospital where he was treated for hypothermia. He suffered cardiac arrest en route to the hospital and was in critical condition for several days.
Authorities recovered the bodies of Edwina Duarte, James Duarte and Doehler, but suspended the search for Ouellette, whose body was eventually found by fishermen on May 29.
The boat was taken to DEM headquarters. Blakely says the boat showed no obvious signs of damage.