- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2006

Authorities yesterday called off a rescue search for publisher Philip Merrill, whose sailboat was found empty Saturday on the Chesapeake Bay.

“We’re now outside of the window of the possibility of survival,” said Col. Mark S. Chaney, superintendent of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Rescue crews, who had scoured a more than 100-square-mile area of the Bay in search of Mr. Merrill since Saturday, now will focus on recovering his body, officials said.

The 72-year-old former diplomat and current publisher of Washingtonian magazine was reported missing after his wife, Eleanor, said he was several hours overdue from a solo day trip on the Bay.

Mr. Merrill’s 41-foot sailboat, the Merrilly, was found later Saturday near Breezy Point — about 25 miles south of Annapolis in Calvert County.

U.S. Coast Guard officials estimated that survival time in the water, which was about 62 degrees with 3-foot waves when Mr. Merrill went missing, would be about 28 hours.

“As time goes by, chances of survival are less and less,” Coast Guard Lt. Timothy G.M. Balunis Jr. said.

Yesterday, two Coast Guard boat crews, a Coast Guard helicopter crew and six boats from the Maryland Natural Resources Police focused on the waters around Poplar Island in a final search-and-rescue effort. Mr. Merrill’s family said he liked to sail in the waters near the island.

“They indicated that Mr. Merrill has on occasion sailed in that area. [But] we don’t know if he went in that direction on Saturday,” said Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Steve Carleton.

Officials made the decision to switch to body-recovery efforts yesterday morning.

Mr. Merrill, who had been sailing since he was 7, typically left his home in Arnold, Md., and sailed to the Severn River before entering the Bay and sailing to Kent Island and back, officials said.

The round-trip totaled about 18 miles, and Mr. Merrill’s friends and family said the publisher did not typically wear a life jacket.

Two personal watercraft riders found his boat in shallow water with its engine off and sails up about 7:15 p.m. near Plum Point. Col. Chaney said the two moved the boat to deeper water before rescue crews arrived.

Col. Chaney would not discuss reports that blood was found on board the boat but said investigators do not suspect foul play. He also could not say which sails on the boat were raised.

Mr. Merrill published Washingtonian magazine, the Capital newspaper in Annapolis and five other newspapers in Maryland.

Tom Marquardt, executive editor of the Capital who has worked with Mr. Merrill since 1977, said the Merrill family is slowly “coming to grips” with the situation and has been flooded with phone calls from well-wishers around the world.

“People [are] just breaking down in tears on the phone, not being able to talk about Phil in the past tense,” Mr. Marquardt said.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday said he was saddened to learn that Mr. Merrill was missing. “My heartfelt prayers go out to his family during this difficult and uncertain time,” he said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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