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Aviation Community Helps in Recovery Search for Man Overboard

By Mallory Peebles, Crime and Law Enforcement, Natural Resources and Parks Reporter, Fill-in Anchor, mpeebles@ktuu.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 07:00:34 AM AKST
Updated On: Oct 11 2013 10:20:41 PM AKDT

Reporter: Mallory Peebles/Photographer: Rick Schleyer

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -

The mother of a Wasilla man, who went overboard Sunday night in the Cook Inlet by the small boats harbor in Anchorage, dried her eyes from tears and boarded a plane Friday afternoon in hopes of finding of her missing son.

"I'm not going to cry,” said Rita McNeal. “I told myself I need dry eyes to find him if he's going to surface.”

Just before midnight Sunday, Peter McNeal, 28, fell off a skiff on his way back to a tug boat operated by Brice Incorporated. For the next 18 hours, multiple search and rescue crews scoured a 10-square-mile area. On Monday evening, the Coast Guard suspended the search.

Volunteers with the aviation community have spent about 20 hours after the initial efforts of fellow Good Samaritans, Anchorage Fire Department, Anchorage Police Department, Alaska State Troopers and the Coast Guard.

McNeal worked for Brice Incorporated, a subsidiary of Calista Corporation, which helped with a plane search Friday that boarded Rita McNeal, a friend of Peter and three other people.

Alba Brice, General Manager of Brice Incorporated, says the company is focused on helping co-workers and friends heal from this loss. Brice would not go into detail on company policy but says wearing a personal Flotation Device is required when aboard a skiff. 

According to the Coast Guard, no law requires adults to wear a PFD, even if they are on commercial vessels, but it's highly recommended.

"Accidents can happen at any time and the more prepared you are the better you are for surviving a fall overboard or a capsizing," said Jon Jones, a USCG commercial fishing vessel safety coordinator .  "So if you already have flotation on the battle for surviving is already done."

Rita McNeal says she believes her son was wearing his PFD since it was never recovered in the boat or anywhere else.

The McNeal family says they're extremely thankful to all of the volunteers and people that have reached out with kind words during this difficult time. What's most important to her right now though, is finding Peter and bringing him home. 

"We know it's a long shot, the inlet is treacherous," said Rita McNeal. "We know it's a long shot finding him out there, it's a big, big inlet, but we feel we needed to try."