River is searched for racer

Boat split in two

son swims to safety

September 05, 2006|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun reporter

PORT DEPOSIT -- Dive teams searched the murky bottom of the Susquehanna River yesterday for a powerboat that broke apart and sank with its driver aboard during a race Sunday. A passenger, the man's 15-year-old son, swam to safety.

Paul Henry Sohn, 49, and his son Timothy John Sohn of Grasonville on the Eastern Shore had been racing in their family's Jersey skiff, Jumpin' Jack Flash. The boat, about 20 feet long and capable of speeds of about 80 mph, apparently launched into the air after bouncing off another racer's wake, and then split in half as it hit the water, said Sgt. Ken Turner of the Maryland Natural Resources Police.

Timothy escaped uninjured, but his father was not able to free himself from his restraints, Turner said, and the boat sank within seconds. Sohn's body was thought to be aboard the sunken boat, Turner said.

Family members, who declined to be interviewed, and dozens of racers milled about the shoreline yesterday, watching the divers search the 20-foot water. Divers said the heavy rains and winds from the storm late last week made for low visibility and strong currents that hampered the recovery effort.

The accident happened during the third annual Ragin' on the River Powerboat Race, the third leg of what is considered the "Triple Crown" of Maryland powerboat races. It was sanctioned by the American Power Boat Association.

Organizer Tom Knight said only about half of the 70 registered racers showed up because of inclement weather Saturday.

The accident forced the early cancellation of the race.

Because of the high winds and heavy rains of the remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto, the Conowingo Dam, just upstream from the site of the accident, had to open floodgates Sunday and yesterday.

DNR dive teams were joined by several volunteer units from Cecil, Harford and Baltimore counties, as well as emergency crews from the powerboat association who were on the scene at the time of the accident.

"We're all trying to get some closure for this family, so we'll stay as long as it takes," Turner said.

Knight and Turner compared the powerboat race with a NASCAR event, saying the level of professionalism was high - but so was the potential for danger.

"This is high-speed and high-adrenaline," Knight said. "It's inherently dangerous."

He added that there had been no injuries and only minor accidents in the two previous races.

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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