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Officials unable to find Gaithersburg man believed to have drowned

May 19, 2010|By DAVE McMILLION
  • Relatives and friends of Daniel Figueroa watch the Potomac River Monday upstream of Sandy Hook. Figueroa has been missing since Saturday when he disappeared while fishing.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer,

SANDY HOOK -- On their third day of searching, officials were unable Monday to find a Gaithersburg, Md., man who is believed to have drowned Saturday in the Potomac River below Harpers Ferry, W.Va., after he and his brother were swept into Class III whitewater rapids while swimming to a fishing spot, officials said.

A helicopter was used Monday morning to search for Daniel Figueroa, 37, and Department of Natural Resources Police officers searched for the man from the shoreline at different times during the day, Sgt. Brian Albert of the Maryland Natural Resources Police said Monday night.

The search was expected to resume Tuesday morning, possibly by using a helicopter and kayaks, although that method of searching has limitations, Albert said. Kayaks are not as effective because kayakers cannot look into the water as effectively as people searching by other means, Albert said.

Figueroa is believed to have drowned at about 5:30 p.m. Saturday while he and his brother, Marlon A. Melgar, 32, of Germantown, Md., were attempting to move to a better fishing spot on the river near Lock 32 along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, Albert said.

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Figueroa and Melgar started wading toward a rock about 75 yards from the Maryland shoreline, then started swimming toward it when the water became deeper, Albert said.

The current carried the men into Class III rapids known as White Horse rapids, and while Melgar was able to crawl onto a rock, Figueroa disappeared into the rapids, according to a news release from Maryland Natural Resources Police.

Melgar was able to swim back to the shoreline after Figueroa disappeared, Albert said.

About 10 friends and family members of Figueroa gathered Monday afternoon in the area of Lock 32. Some of them sat on the river bank; others gathered under a tent-like shelter.

Members of the group declined to talk about the incident.

As they looked toward the river, a man in a kayak paddled in the section of the river in front of them. The kayak was tossed about at times in the current that splashed against large rocks in the river.

Albert said he did not know who the kayaker was or if he was searching for Figueroa.

That section of the river is "very unpredictable" and there are currents that can pull a person down in the water, Albert said.

"There are places that are 15 feet deep and the current's running pretty good. It's definitely too strong for a person to stand up in," Albert said.

A National Capital Park Police helicopter pilot searched the area starting at about 10 a.m., but the pilot stopped about 30 minutes later, Albert said, because low clouds made it difficult to see.

He said officials were hopeful that a helicopter could be used today.

Kayaks might be used in Tuesday's search although officials will have to make that decision based on how much the river's level increases due to recent rains, Albert said.

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