Man missing from ferry seen slipping overboard
The Fairhaven police, based on evidence developed during their investigation of the disappearance Sept. 24 of a passenger from the New Bedford-Vineyard Haven fast ferry, now suspect that Walter Tyler purposefully went overboard.
Mr. Tyler, 27 and a Fairhaven resident, boarded the 1:30 pm New England Fast Ferry trip from New Bedford. He was reported missing by his family. Surveillance camera videos showed him boarding the ferry in New Bedford but not disembarking in Vineyard Haven.
Although Mr. Tyler, a Navy veteran, was a very strong swimmer trained in cold water survival, Chief Gary Souza said the police believe he may have been wearing a weight belt, based on his family's discovery that one is missing from their house in Fairhaven where Mr. Tyler lived.
The chief also confirmed that Mr. Tyler left a note for his family. "As is our department's policy, I can't characterize the type of note, other than to say we have ruled out foul play and do not believe it was an accident that he went over," he said.
Yesterday, Chief Souza added that a man from Chadds Ford, Penn., sailing with two friends aboard a 51-foot sailboat on Vineyard Sound on Sept. 24, told police he saw a person tumble over the starboard rail near the bow of the New England Fast Ferry into the water as it passed about one-quarter to one-half mile away.
The witness alerted his friends, Chief Souza said, but not the ferry or the Coast Guard. The chief said the yachtsmen were uncertain of what they'd seen, because the ferry kept going. After sailing to the location where they thought the man went overboard, they found a hat with the words, "Fairhaven Father's Day Road Race." The men searched the area for about 10 minutes and finding no evidence of anyone in the water, followed the fast ferry for about 15 minutes to see if she stopped or if there was any indication of an alarm for a man overboard.
Chief Souza said the witness's friends convinced him that it was a hat and not a person he saw fall. However, because he was still uneasy, the men recorded the GPS position where they found the hat and threw the hat back into the water, Chief Souza said.
On Sept. 27, after his friends alerted him about reports in the media that Mr. Tyler was missing, the man from Pennsylvania called the Fairhaven police and spoke with Detective Sergeant Michael Botelho.
Chief Souza said that the man was distraught at the thought he could have alerted someone and perhaps saved Mr. Tyler's life.
However, the chief said, "There was nothing he could have done. It's not surprising to me that nobody on the ferry would have seen him go over, because when the ferry is moving that quickly, there is quite an extensive amount of spray on the outside, and I know people go inside."
In addition, Chief Souza said that from the witness's description, Mr. Tyler appeared to go straight down as he entered the water.
On Monday this week, Chief Souza said that two Fairhaven police officers, three New Bedford police officers, and one Dartmouth police officer searched the bottom of Vineyard Sound in a boat equipped with cameras provided through a grant from Homeland Security to the Southeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council. The search area included the area at and around the location where the hat was found, as well as the GPS location given by the men in the sailboat where they thought Mr. Tyler went overboard, approximately halfway between Woods Hole and Martha's Vineyard.
"It's in an area of Vineyard Sound that is very current driven, and so it was a long shot to go looking for him on the bottom, especially because it was in 80 feet of water," Chief Souza said. "We looked extensively all day, but we found nothing. The search and recovery effort is essentially over with."