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UPDATE: Search suspended for Northfield man presumed drowned

Union Leader Correspondent

April 16. 2014 10:40AM

Divers search the Smith River just below Profile Falls in Bristol Tuesday. (DAN SEUFERT)

BRISTOL – The search for a 32-year-old Northfield man who is presumed drowned after jumping into the raging waters in a "Polar Plunge" of the Smith River Monday night was called off today, as the Smith River below Profile Falls had risen by as much as 10 feet overnight.

Instead, Army National Guard helicopters will be flying over the river today, combing the swelling river from above, according to Lt. James Kneeland.

"It's too high for us to consider going back there today, so we have pulled out," Kneeland said. "We'll play it day by day, hopefully we can get back in there by this weekend."

Teams are searching for Aaron Hoyt of Northfield, in what Kneeland said is now a recovery operation, as Hoyt is "presumed drowned," he said.

Two friends who were with Hoyt have not seen him since he jumped in the water just before 8 p.m. Monday, he said. The two swimmers called for help after he failed to surface.

The two friends were upset Tuesday, Kneeland said, that media reports indicated they had dared Hoyt to jump in. The reports came from statements made by rescue crews Monday night and Tuesday morning.

"I don't doubt that they were participating in a Polar Plunge, they were talking about it afterward and said they had seen it on the Internet," Kneeland said.

"We just don't have any specific evidence that anyone dared him to go in. They indicated they wanted to participate in a Polar Plunge, but we don't have evidence of a specific dare," he said.

The bridge at the falls where the search teams headquartered Monday night and Tuesday was underwater this morning, Kneeland said, and the waters were expected to continue rising.

Kneeland said Fish and Game and Marine Patrol search teams hoped to return to the scene by the weekend. When they next search, they will likely have "cadaver dogs:" dogs trained in finding bodies, he said.

Previous story follows:

BRISTOL – A 32-year-old Northfield man still missing in the raging waters of the Smith River apparently lost his life late Monday night after taking a dare from two friends in what state officials said was a dangerous "Polar Plunge" activity.

Michael Hoyt of Northfield confirmed Tuesday that his son, Aaron Hoyt, is the person who was lost in the waters Monday night. Michael Hoyt said police met with him Tuesday morning. Michael Hoyt would not comment further.

Law enforcement authorities confirmed this evening that Aaron Hoyt is the victim.

State Fish and Game and Marine Patrol divers and boat crews were searching a 2-mile stretch of the river near the 30-foot Profile Falls, a popular swimming area in summer months.

But Fish and Game Lt. James Kneeland said the man will not likely be found alive.

"This is a recovery operation at this point," Kneeland said.

The two friends who were with man have not seen him since he jumped in the water just before 8 p.m., he said. The two swimmers called for help after he failed to surface.

The rivers and streams in the state are running dangerously high because of the snow melt and recent rains. Tuesday, the rain fell heavily at times on the rescue crews.

Fish and Game officials issued a press release Monday warning of the dangers of participating in a Polar Plunge, a fad "being fanned on social media sites."

According to Fish and Game officials, a Polar Plunge requires participants to jump into freezing water wearing only summer swimwear and without life vests. Once in the water, they also have to dare five others to take the plunge.

The fact that someone apparently died from a Polar Plunge just hours after the press release warning of its dangers was issued caused frustration among the search teams.

"What a waste," said Marine Patrol Sgt. Dave Ouellette, who helped develop the press release. "Even a strong swimmer, even our divers, have a minimum chance of survival right now because the rivers are so dangerous. People need to think twice before participating in a fad like this."

The rapids below the falls are now at 15- to 20-foot levels, and the water is flowing fast. When divers conducted their searches Tuesday, once in the water, they were jerked into the main river flow and pushed downstream without much control over their direction or speed.

The water temperature was in the 40-degree range.

"It's definitely not conducive to swimming," Kneeland said.

The crews were expected to keep searching, but the rain threatened to cut the search short, and Kneeland wasn't sure if crews would be able to continue searching Wednesday morning.

"All we can do is snorkel and dive and hope we get lucky," he said.

Public Safety Bristol Northfield

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