Boater finds Philip Merrill's body in bay

Publisher had been missing since a June 10 sailing trip

June 20, 2006|By ANNIE LINSKEY | ANNIE LINSKEY,SUN REPORTER

The body of Philip Merrill -- the Annapolis-area publisher, philanthropist and former diplomat who disappeared while sailing the Chesapeake Bay on June 10 -- was found yesterday by a boater near Maryland's Eastern Shore.

A 10-day search for Merrill ended at 12:30 p.m. when a boater who was not part of the recovery effort found the body of Merrill, 72, floating near a shipping channel southwest of Poplar Island, said Col. Mark S. Chaney, superintendent of the Maryland Natural Resources Police.

The Talbot County island is about 17 miles southeast of Annapolis, between where Merrill set sail in Arnold and where his boat was discovered, near Plum Point.

Tom Marquardt, executive director of Capital Gazette Communications Inc., which Merrill headed, said family members were thankful that the search was over.

"This family has been dealing with the tragedy for more than a week," he said. "It's been extremely difficult. I think they [family members] are relieved that they finally have closure."

Merrill's body was found in waters nine miles south of the route Merrill was known to sail and outside the 30-square-mile search area near Kent Island where Natural Resources Police had concentrated their recovery efforts, Chaney said at a news conference yesterday.

A state medical examiner made a preliminary identification based on clothing, including a shirt bearing the word Merrilly -- the name of Merrill's 41-foot boat, police said.

The longtime sailor was not in the habit of wearing a lifejacket, and Chaney said none was found on the body.

An autopsy will be performed today in Baltimore, Chaney said.

Chaney declined to speculate on where Merrill might have fallen out of his boat, or on the likely cause of death, though police do not suspect foul play.

Police did not release the name of the boater who found the body.

About a half-dozen boats and a helicopter were conducting surface searches of the bay when the body was found yesterday, Chaney said. The search was not called off until after the preliminary identification.

On Saturday, recovery workers had stopped using a side-scan sonar -- a device that detects underwater objects -- because of their calculations that the body would rise with increasing water temperatures and because they had finished scanning the areas where they calculated the body would likely be.

"I'm just grateful that it brings closure to the family," said Jennifer B. Horton, the chairman of the board of trustees for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "It is very unfortunate."

Since Merrill was reported missing, foundation members had joined in recovery efforts using their own boats.

"It is quite natural -- something any waterman would do for another because we all have a shared love and respect for the bay," Horton said.

His boat was found the evening of June 10 with the sails raised near Plum Point, in Calvert County.

Natural Resources Police interviewed Merrill's wife that night in their Arnold home and learned that, despite a small craft advisory issued for heavy wind, he had set off for a solo sailing trip about 2 p.m. that day.

A multiagency rescue mission was launched. It later became a recovery effort that included helicopters, boats and scanners from the Coast Guard, as well as the Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City fire departments.

A Baltimore native whose friends included Vice President Dick Cheney, Merrill was a well-known figure and the search for his body attracted national news coverage. He was chairman of Capital-Gazette Communications, which publishes The Capital newspaper of Annapolis and Washingtonian magazine. His wife has taken over those roles but has not been in the newsroom during the search, Marquardt said.

Until last year, Merrill was the president and chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States. He served as assistant secretary general of NATO in Brussels in the early 1990s.

Merrill gave away millions of dollars to organizations that matched his interests, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the University of Maryland's journalism school and the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies.

A memorial service for Merrill will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, 1301 Constitution Ave. in Washington.

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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