- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Authorities yesterday recovered the body of publisher and former diplomat Philip Merrill near Poplar Island in the Chesapeake Bay, 11 miles northeast of where his sailboat was found deserted June 10.

Mr. Merrill, who had been sailing solo from the Severn River to Kent Island, may have fallen overboard, but foul play is not suspected, officials said.

Search-and-rescue workers from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police and the U.S. Coast Guard recovered the body in 20-foot-deep water at 1 p.m., just one mile from Poplar Island near Talbot County. The uninhabited island is six miles south of Kent Island along the Eastern Shore.

The body was spotted by an unnamed boater at 12:30 p.m., authorities said. Mr. Merrill, 72, was not wearing a life jacket.

Although the initial 26-hour search-and-rescue mission covered a broad area of the Bay, recovery efforts since last week had limited the search area to a 30-mile area near Poplar Island. Mr. Merrill’s body was discovered nine miles outside of the search area.

Officials said his family was notified and that his shirt, which bears the name of his boat, the Merrilly, had helped identify his remains.

“We have had daily contact with the family,” Col. Mark Chaney, superintendent of the Natural Resources Police, said during a press conference at Sandy Point State Park.

Mr. Merrill’s deserted 41-foot sailboat was discovered at Plum Point after his wife, Eleanor, reported him overdue from a solo sail to Kent Island.

“It was a considerable distance,” said Col. Chaney, who added that the search for Mr. Merrill had continued with six vessels up until the moment his body was recovered.

Mr. Merrill’s body was taken to a funeral home on Tilghman Island, where it was identified by Dr. Claude Kuprowski, deputy state medical examiner.

The remains will be transported to Baltimore today for an autopsy by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Conflicting reports of the condition of the boat are still not clear.

It originally was reported that the boat was under power and later that it was under sail and grounded.

When asked whether the boom was secure on the 41-foot vessel, Col. Chaney said, “I don’t have that information with me.”

He also declined to respond to reports that blood was found on the boat’s stern.

“The boat is still in custody. We will release that information after the investigation,” Col. Chaney said.

Mr. Merrill was known in Washington journalism circles as the mercurial publisher of Washingtonian magazine, the Capital newspaper in Annapolis and five other Maryland newspapers.

His name also graces the University of Maryland’s journalism program. His service to Republican presidents includes stints as assistant secretary-general of NATO in Brussels and, until last year, as head of the Export-Import Bank.

He also was a philanthropist, donating $10 million to the University of Maryland’s college of journalism and $7.5 million for a new headquarters for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

University of Maryland President C.D. Mote Jr. said Mr. Merrill was a model for the profession of journalism, showing “the pursuit of truth, the exacting of information to make sound, well-considered decisions, and the ultimate goal of service to society.”

Mr. Merrill was remembered with fondness by several dignitaries, including Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

Mr. Cheney called him “a friend, an adviser and a patriot” and described Mr. Merrill and his wife as “some of our closest friends during our years in Washington.”

A memorial service for Mr. Merrill already was scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, 1301 Constitution Ave. NW in the District.

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

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