A search covering 12-square nautical miles of Lake Erie that used divers, sonar and a helicopter was unable to locate the body of a Cleveland firefighter who went overboard Saturday evening.
The search for Kenneth Alderman, a 44-year-old Cleveland firefighter, was suspended at 3 p.m. Sunday. The hunt will not resume until further evidence of his location is discovered, authorities said.
Alderman went missing after he fell in the lake about two miles east of the Sandusky break wall shortly before 8 p.m. Saturday, said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer William Mitchell. He was aboard a 30-foot recreational boat with three other people, including his fiancée and the boat’s owner. He was not wearing a safety vest.
The circumstances that led to the firefighter ending up in the water still are not clear. Authorities said only that witnesses saw Alderman struggle in the water and then go under.
“The people on the boat tried to save him after he fell in the water ... but he was in a state of panic when he fell in and tried to fight off the people who tried to rescue him,” Mitchell said. “They saw him actually go underwater — fall beneath the surface of the water.”
Jim Kennedy, fleet manager with Lake Erie Towing, was the first on scene Saturday night and sent a distress signal to the Coast Guard. After releasing green dye into the water to mark the position of the boat, which he described as a white express cruiser with blue trim, Kennedy started searching for Alderman.
His efforts proved unsuccessful, and he found no sign of the man.
Many hours later, the efforts of many agencies were as fruitless. A boat from the Huron Fire Department used a side-scanner to survey Lake Erie’s murky depths. The Cleveland Fire Department sent divers searching for Alderman, and cadaver dogs were used to locate his scent. The Coast Guard continued its search through the late afternoon using two boats and a helicopter.
The search was finally called off after more than 18 hours.
All four people on deck of the recreational vessel were not wearing life vests, Mitchell said. Things may have ended differently if they had, he added.
“This is a typically tragic Great Lakes’ case, where you have people going out to enjoy the weather and have a good time, but because they don’t take precautions — a lifejacket, which would have changed the outcome of the night — it ended in death,” Mitchell said.
Larry Gray, spokesman with the Cleveland Fire Department, said Alderman has 21 years of experience as a firefighter, of which the last 17 he’s spent in the same station.