A group of state police divers and Fulton County sheriff’s deputies chatted and puttered around the Broadalbin public boat launch Wednesday morning.
The third day of a major search for father and son Mark and Brent Richards, local residents who went missing on the Great Sacandaga Lake Saturday, started off slowly. At 10 a.m. fog was still thick over the water. The surface was glass-smooth except for the odd ripple raised by spawning carp.
“Did you bring my coffee?” state police diver Tim Hard asked an arriving officer.
Mark, 51, and Brent, 24, launched their 8- or 10-foot flat-bottom boat near the state-run Broadalbin lake access at 6:30 Saturday morning.
When they did not return in the evening, family member Darla Richards reported the two fishermen missing. Their vehicle was found on MacVean Road, near the public access, and a search commenced.
A few bobbers and a bait box were found floating off shore Sunday night. A larger search was launched Monday, but there has been very little to show for it.
Searches with state police and Department of Environmental Conservation sonar-equipped boats, divers and a police helicopter yielded no sign of the men or their boat. The Fulton County Sheriff’s Department confirmed nothing was found Wednesday, either.
Wednesday morning, the search party seemed to be settling into what could be a long haul.
Since Hard is with the state police, assisting the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department rather than leading the search, he could not comment on any specifics of the case. But he took a few minutes as the fog cleared to explain search techniques.
The two state police boats on hand Wednesday morning, along with a few from the sheriff’s department that arrived later, cruise at idling speed with sonar devices mapping a 100-foot-wide swath of lake bottom at a half-mile every hour.
“It looks like a moonscape,” he said. “It’s sort of a brownish screen and anything out of the ordinary is yellow, so we don’t miss much.”
Those out-of-the-ordinary shapes are flagged, and a diver is sent down to check things out. For example, in Tuesday’s operation, they saw something of the general size and shape of the missing boat. A diver confirmed that the object was just a 5-by-11-foot rock.
Hard couldn’t predict how long the search could go on but said that over the course of his 21 years in the field, such efforts have been nothing if not thorough.
Hard said the Great Sacandaga isn’t unreasonably large as lakes go. Even so, it will take a very long time to search at the team’s current rate.
If nothing floats to the surface to be found by other fishermen or spotters in state police helicopters, the whole lake will have to be mapped by sonar.
Cruising at a half-mile per hour, all involved boats would have to work for more than 1,000 straight hours to cover every inch of the lake.
Of course, they expect the boat and two fishermen will be found near their launch site. However, as one state police trooper on the scene pointed out, the boat could be anywhere within the distance an electric trolling motor can push a flat-bottom boat in 24 hours.