A fishing trip on Sengekontacket Pond turned tragic Monday when two men from Oak Bluffs drowned accidentally several hours after paddling a one-person kayak out to a sandbar and casting their lines.
The two men - Romulo de Almeida, 24, and Wesley Barbosa, 27 - shared more than just the yellow kayak. Mr. Almeida was engaged to Mr. Barbosa's sister, 22-year-old Kenia Barbosa of Oak Bluffs.
They told her Monday morning they were going fishing and would return between 4 and 5 p.m. with a big fish for dinner. But the two carpenters and future brothers in law never came back.
After a night-long search on the pond conducted by a Coast Guard helicopter and teams of Island emergency officials on foot and in boats, the bodies were discovered Tuesday at around 7:30 a.m. in about 12 feet of water in the southern end of Sengekontacket.
Officials have ruled it an accidental drowning and can only speculate about what happened. Neither man was wearing a life vest, and state environmental police Sgt. William Searle said they were likely not strong swimmers.
"There was no sign they had been drinking. Based on the facts available, they were standing on the sandbar, the tide came in, the kayak drifted away and they tried to swim to shore and didn't make it," Sergeant Searle said. "Or the kayak flipped and drifted away. Those are the most obvious scenarios."
According to police accounts, the two men parked their work van in the lot by the big bridge in Oak Bluffs. They were last seen at about 2:30 p.m. by an eyewitness who was later one of the emergency divers called to the scene.
Miss Barbosa and other family members began searching for the two men when darkness fell. They went to the homes of both men, and then drove along Beach Road, where they spotted the white van and saw the boots and socks left on the shore.
It was midnight when police were alerted that the two men were missing. By 1 a.m., Sergeant Searle said, a full-fledged search was under way. Rescue teams began scouring both the Sengekontacket shoreline and State Beach looking for signs of the men.
A Coast Guard helicopter stationed at Otis Air Force Base arrived on the scene by 2:15 a.m. and scanned the pond with floodlights.
"By about 3:30 a.m., they located the kayak, partially submerged in the southwest side of Sengekontacket," said Sergeant Searle.
He added that he decided to withdraw rescue efforts on the water since there was little chance that the two would have survived that long. "If they were on the water, the Coast Guard would have found them," he said.
Search crews continued looking on the perimeter of the pond. The Coast Guard helicopter was called back within an hour of daybreak and quickly spotted the bodies.
"They found the remains of one subject and seven minutes later found the other, both of them on the east side of sandbar," said Sergeant Searle. "If they had been wearing life preservers, we wouldn't have been involved in that search."
Miss Barbosa said yesterday that her brother had arrived on the Island from Brazil only two months ago, and was hoping to earn enough money to bring his wife and two daughters, six-year-old twins, to the Vineyard.
"He wanted to give them a better life," she said. "He also loved the drums. He played in a rock-and-roll band in Brazil."
When she spoke of her fiance, Miss Barbosa began to cry. They had both come from Brazil, but they met on the Island at the beach. "We were together one year and two months. He was adventurous, and he loved to do everything," she said.
"We loved them so much no matter where they are, and they still live in our hearts and are very important to us," she said of both men.
Funeral services for the two men will be private, Miss Barbosa said.
Miss Barbosa expressed gratitude to those who spent the entire night looking for her brother and her fiance. "The people who helped us, the people who stayed there with us, I want to thank them," she said.
More than seven Island agencies responded to the call, including fire and police departments fromboth Edgartown and Oak Bluffs, state police, the county sheriff's department, the West Tisbury dive team, the Martha's Vineyard chapter of the American Red Cross and Dukes County Search and Rescue.
Volunteers brought hot coffee and stew to a command post near the big bridge, Sergeant Searle said. "It's a pleasure to work on Martha's Vineyard because of the moral quality of the people who respond to something like this," he added. "It was a pulling together of the community."