By Jim Melwert, Andrew Kramer and Cleve Bryan
LONGPORT, N.J. (CBS) — The Coast Guard suspended its search Monday for a boater who went missing late Sunday night in Longport, Atlantic County.
The U.S. Coast Guard says they got the call at around 11:30 p.m. Sunday for a 20-foot-long Pontoon Boat that hit a buoy and ran into the jetty at the end of Longport — near 11th Avenue, across the water from Ocean City.
The Coast Guard says two men were on board the boat. One of the men made it safely to shore, while the other, who has been identified as 44-year-old Andrew Biddle, went missing in the surf.
New Jersey State Police are heading the investigation and say that Biddle was accompanied by 23-year-old Justin Belz.
The two men were operating the pontoon boat Sunday night heading from the direction of Ocean City toward Northfield where Biddle docks the boat.
Damage on the boat and channel marker for the Intracoastal Waterway indicate the front port side of the boat hit the buoy.
Biddle and Belz are both experienced speed boat racers in the P1 Superstock circuit. Biddle and his racing partner Tracy Blumenstein are the reigning champions.
No word from authorities what may have lead to the speed racers crashing a slow moving pontoon boat into a buoy, investigators say there was no fishing gear on the boat.
Witness Tom Murphy says he was just about to go to bed when he heard a thump. He ran across the street to the bay and saw the one man in the water.
“He was really out there just kind of swimming, treading water,” he tells KYW Newsradio. “(His friend) was screaming his name a lot. He was screaming, ‘Help, help, help!’ That’s what I heard. Mostly he was just absolutely hysterically yelling his friend’s name.”
Murphy says he went back into his home to get his paddleboard while another man called 9-1-1 and coached the man in the water to the shore, yelling at him to swim in. He says the currents are nasty, especially at night.
Longport Mayor Nick Russo came to the scene as the Longport Fire Department joined in the initial rescue efforts.
“We feel very badly about those families that have been affected by this, certainly a tragedy,” says Russo.
The Coast Guard resumed their search for Biddle in the bay Monday morning. Multiple Coast Guard helicopter and boat crews searched for Biddle for about 18 hours covering an area of about 60 square miles.
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