Wesley Schoonmaker’s Great Adventure triggers massive search; alive after being blown to shore after he set out to test an oar in heavy weather on the Chesapeake Bay

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Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua Canup
U.S. Coast Guard District 5
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A rescue swimmer with Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina jumps from a helicopter during training Sunday, June 13, 2016. Part of Air Station Elizabeth City’s mission is to minimize injury and loss of life, property damage and render aid to persons in distress as expeditious and safe as humanly possible.

Wesley Schoonmaker’s Great Adventure triggers massive search after he set out to test an oar in heavy weather on the Chesapeake Bay

UPDATE: Rafter Wesley Found Alive! 

UPDATE: Coast Guard says missing rafter located alive near Machipongo, Va.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. – The Coast Guard concluded its search for a Norfolk man after he was located alive near Machipongo Sunday.

Wesley Schoonmaker was discovered by a good Samaritan after Schoonmaker came ashore with his raft at a Machipongo beach near the person’s home and walked into their backyard. The good Samaritan called Eastern Shore 911 Dispatch who, along with an Accomack County sheriff, notified the Coast Guard.

Schoonmaker originally launched his raft near Willoughby Spit Saturday and said he was immediately blown away from the shore. Overnight he drifted north with his raft until he landed in Machipongo.

Schoonmaker was reported to be windburned but in stable condition and was transported to Riverside Hospital in Onley by local EMS.

“We appreciate the team effort from different agencies and stations during the search,” said Coast Guard Lt.j.g. Bradley S. Milliken, command duty officer at the Sector Hampton Roads Command Center in Portsmouth. “We’re glad he’s okay.”

Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City launched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew and a C-130 Hercules aircraft crew to assist with search operations. The Coast Guard Cutter Mako and response boats from Coast Guard Stations Milford Haven, Cape Charles and Little Creek also searched.

They were joined by a Naval Station Norfolk Chambers Field SH-60 Seahawk helicopter crew and Virginia Marine Police crews in the 33-hour search covering 1,438 miles.

Schoonmaker crossed the wild and wooly Chesapeake Bay through the night with freighters and tankers in the busy channel going to Norfolk, Newport News, and Baltimore, without lights, steering or anything other than wind power and a prayer. He ended up on a beach near a private home on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Well he never returned, he never returned, and his fate is still unknown, he may ride forever the waves of the Chesapeake and be known forever as the man who never returned’.

Wesley Schoonmaker disappeared in the Chesapeake Bay during gale force winds when he was testing a new oar on Nov. 18, 2017

While one can understand how a person can get lost on a subway in a major city, it takes a special brand of derring-do to set out on the Chesapeake Bay in high winds and strong current with a large chop in an eight-foot raft in order test a new oar.  

No matter how big a fool that a sailor or boater can be, the United States Coast Guard and other rescue agencies risk their own lives to search for and rescue those who go down to the sea in ships and rafts.

The Coast Guard reported on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017, that they and other agencies are searching for a man last seen planning to take a raft out on the Chesapeake Bay.

The Norfolk Police Department notified the Coast Guard at about 5 p.m. on Saturday that 49-year-old Wesley Schoonmaker was last seen departing his Norfolk residence wearing a full wetsuit. He had stated that he planned to test out a new oar by paddling his 8-foot yellow and dark blue raft near Willoughby Spit in Norfolk.

Watchstanders in the Sector Hampton Roads Command Center in Portsmouth issued an urgent marine information broadcast and began coordinating search efforts following the report.

Master Chief Petty Officer William Hollandsworth, officer-in-charge of Coast Guard Cutter Mako

Coast Guard 45-foot Response Boat-Medium crews launched from Station Portsmouth and Station Little Creek, and the crew of Cutter Mako diverted to join the search. An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew launched from Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and joined Virginia Marine Police crews and other agencies in the search throughout Saturday night.

Coast Guard crews continue searching Sunday morning along with state and local agencies.

“We are actively searching for Mr. Schoonmaker from the air and on the water,” said Capt. Richard Wester, commander, Sector Hampton Roads. “Anyone with information that might help find him, please contact the Sector Hampton Roads Command Center at 757-668-5555.”

Willoughby Spit near Norfolk, Va.

Willougby Spit near Norfolk Va. where Wesley Schoonmaker went rafting in windy weather. Google Map