MARBLEHEAD — Following a dramatic search Tuesday, authorities recovered the body of a 58-year-old Westfield man who apparently drowned while diving for scallops.
The man’s identity was not immediately released, and the circumstances of his death remained unclear.
Carrie Kimball Monahan, spokeswoman for the Essex district attorney, said the victim had been diving in 50 to 60 feet of water with another man near Satan’s Rock, off Children’s Island, while a third person remained in the boat.
When the victim failed to surface, the boat’s driver made a “diver down” call to the Marblehead harbormaster at about 10:15 a.m. Rescuers arrived in wetsuits and carrying oxygen tanks, as State Police provided sonar devices and other equipment to find help find the man.
A boat returned to the harbor carrying a black bag, which appeared to be the body, around 3:30 p.m.
The multihour rescue effort, involving several local and state agencies and the US Coast Guard, transfixed Marblehead.
A row of onlookers lined State Street Landing for hours, staring at the spectacle. A helicopter buzzed overhead, as a group of children gathered on the island for a YMCA day camp.
Diners at The Landing Restaurant, which offers a panoramic view of the harbor, asked, “What’s going on?” as teams of divers in wetsuits sped toward Children’s Island.
“It’s a shame,” Michael Havens, an experienced diver who has lived in Marblehead for almost a half century, said after the body was recovered.
Havens, 49, said his oxygen tanks usually last about 45 minutes at the depth in which the victim was swimming. He said scallops and lobster are abundant in the harbor, but it’s possible to become snagged in the webs of fishing line.
“He could have gotten tangled in something,” he said. “But it isn’t necessarily rough with the light winds today.”
Harbor authorities Tuesday evening were preparing to transfer the body to the office of the chief medical examiner to determine the cause and manner of his death.
A diver last died off the coast of Massachusetts on May 12 when a 38-year-old suffered an apparent medical emergency during a diving lesson and drysuit demonstration in Gloucester.
Tuesday’s apparent drowning came as a shock in the town where summer visitors come from across Massachusetts and elsewhere to soak up the seaside charm.
Pat Ayer had been taking her dogs for a walk when she noticed at least six emergency vehicles crowding the The Landing Restaurant parking lot.
“This is quite a turnout for a search,” Ayer said. “Divers do take a big risk.”
Children at a Y day camp on Children’s Island were taken by boat to the Corinthian Yacht Club, rather than their usual pickup location at State Street Landing, which served as a command center for the investigation.
Carol Harrie, manager of The Landing, said her customers couldn’t take their eyes off the water.
By Tuesday evening, activity had died down on the landing, and local residents and anglers were returning to the docks. But Harrie said it will be hard not stare into the harbor and remember the day’s sad drama.
“It’s scary because it can happen anywhere,” she said. “The ocean has no conscience.”Correspondent Trisha Thadani contributed to this report. Faiz Siddiqui can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.