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UPDATE: Cape May Man Dies After Boat Strikes Dredge Pipe; New Info Added

Cape May Harbor was the site of a fatal boat accident, Aug. 9, at around 2:20 a.m., when a boat struck a section of dredge pipe that had broken loose from its mooring and was in the harbor. New Jersey State Police Marine Unit is investigating the incident.

By Christopher South

CAPE MAY – New Jersey State Police (NJSP) identified the boater who was killed after his vessel hit a loose dredge pipe in Cape May Harbor.

NJSP’s Sgt. Philip Curry said the operator was Christopher Heitman, 45, of Cape May. Heitman was operating a 17-foot Sea Hunt vessel at around 2:21 a.m., Aug. 9, when he struck a dredge pipe that had broken free from its mooring. Both Heitman and one passenger were ejected from the vessel.

According to the NJSP, the passenger was able to return to the vessel. Heitman was later recovered unresponsive and was determined to be dead. State police said the crash is still under investigation.

Cape May Fire Department responded to the harbor with a rescue vehicle, an engine, and two ambulances, remaining on the scene until about 5:17 a.m. Heitman’s body was transported to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Cape May Police Chief Dekon Fashaw said the Cape May Police Department responded to the accident location with officers to assist the U.S. Coast Guard Fire Department and Cape May Fire Department, as well as the NJSP Marine Unit, which is investigating this matter in its entirety.

U.S. Coast Guard Station Cape May responded to the accident with a boat and U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City dispatched a helicopter to look for Heitman, who was located by a good Samaritan. The Coast Guard took the victims to the station for treatment before being transported to the hospital.

Tom Carroll, one of Cape May’s two harbormasters, said it was tragic that the accident happened, and he and his fellow harbormaster, Jack Lord, would support reviewing procedures for storing equipment in the harbor.

“There is certainly a need for some review for dredging equipment being properly stored in the harbor, if, in fact, it needs to be stored there at all,” Carroll said.

Carroll, who is a longtime Cape May resident, said to the best of his knowledge, however, there has never been more than a minor accident involving a boat and something like dredging equipment.

“It’s disappointing or saddening that it has come to this – a death in our harbor. There has been a tremendous amount of equipment on the north side of the harbor since January and it takes up a lot of space,” Lord said. “Where is the oversight? What are the regulations? What is the regulatory process.”

Lord said the dredging company has some massive pieces of equipment in the harbor, and transient boats that stop in Cape May Harbor that would typically moor adjacent to the Coast Guard base have been forced to moor in shallower water in front of the Corinthian Yacht Club because the dredging equipment is taking up space.

The U.S. Coast Guard base contracted with Great Lakes Dredging for some work near its facility. Coast Guard public information officer Lt. Malia Hindle said an examination of safety procedures related to the dredging equipment would be part of the investigation. The Cost Guard is working with the NJSP on the investigation.

The state Department of Transportation also has a $2.7 million dredging project in Cape May Harbor that has been ongoing since February. The Barnegat Bay Dredging Company, U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s contractor, has been working in the area of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal on an Intracoastal Waterway project.

Cape May Mayor Zachary Mullock issued the following statement: “My sincere condolences to all the friends and family of Christopher. The city looks forward to seeing the results of the investigation.”

Contact the author, Christopher South, at csouth@cmcherald.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.

Reporter

Christopher South is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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