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Coast Guard: Personnel Searched Boat Where Body Was Found

A 42-foot response boat crew from Coast Guard Station Chatham, Mass., prepares to moor following training, Sept. 29, 2015. (U.S. Coast Guard photo/Petty Officer 2nd Class Cynthia Oldham)
A 42-foot response boat crew from Coast Guard Station Chatham, Mass., prepares to moor following training, Sept. 29, 2015. (U.S. Coast Guard photo/Petty Officer 2nd Class Cynthia Oldham)

CHATHAM -- In the hours after being notified in October that 24-year-old Matthew Amsler was missing, personnel at Coast Guard Station Chatham searched a 44-foot boat where his decomposed body was found Sunday, an agency official said Wednesday.

Amsler's body was found in a smaller, watertight space behind the vessel's survivors cabin, where police and Amsler's father said he was found, according to Coast Guard Lt. Commander Karen Kutkiewicz.

The space is not an area intended for human accommodation, and she was unsure if it had been searched until Sunday, Kutkiewicz said.

"There are certain areas on a boat not meant to house personnel, like the fuel tanks, voids, storage spaces, the anchor chain locker, and the aft-steering lazarette where the body was found," Kutkiewicz wrote in an email.

Amsler was first reported missing the night of Oct. 28 when his wife came into the Chatham Police Station to say he hadn't come home the previous evening. The Cape and Islands District Attorney's Office and Chatham police still consider Amsler a missing person until the state medical examiner's office confirms the remains found onboard the vessel are his, but his family says they have been told it is him.

A timeline provided by the Chatham police shows that Amsler walked away, in a heavy rain, from friends parked at the Lighthouse Beach parking lot at around midnight Oct. 27. The Coast Guard search for him began after 10:45 p.m. Oct. 28 when Chatham police notified the station he was missing, and asked that the agency search its property across the street from the parking lot. The CG44301 motor lifeboat is displayed on the Coast Guard station's front lawn between the building and the parking lot.

Amsler's body was found Sunday night when a team from the station was conducting a shipboard boarding drill and opened the small hatch at the rear of the survivors cabin leading to a roughly 4-by-8-foot semi-circular space known as a lazarette that houses the emergency steering tiller in the middle of the compartment. The space is cramped because its irregular shape follows the sloping lines of the stern.

"It's not even looked at as a man-sized space" and would not be a comfortable place to rest, Kutkiewicz said about the lazarette. "It would have been tight. He would not have gone there to take a nap."

Hatches on the vessel were never meant to be locked and were not locked the night Amsler disappeared, according to Kutkiewicz.

Amsler's father, James Amsler, said Coast Guard station personnel prevented him from searching the vessel a month after his son's disappearance and told him it had already been searched.

"When they were searching the vessel they used flashlights, were making noise, and saying his name," Kutkiewicz said.

But she was unsure about whether they actually opened the 2-by-2-foot hatch to the lazarette and looked inside, she said. She did not know if they ever returned to search the vessel again prior to Sunday. The Coast Guard is working with police and the district attorney's office to create a timeline, Kutkiewicz said.

"All of us, the police, the fire department, the harbormaster, we searched land and sea," she said. "We searched anywhere we thought someone might have been hiding."

But sometimes, she said, when you don't want to be found, you are not found.

"That's how someone goes missing," Kutkiewicz said.

Kutkiewicz said they are not sure when Matthew Amsler actually got on the boat. There is no video monitoring of the vessel.

"Even if we searched the boat, he may not have been there yet," she said.

Unlike commissioned vessels in daily use, the CG44301 is not inspected regularly.

"We don't have a routine schedule of when we go on this boat because it is on display," Kutkiewicz said.

--This article is written by Doug Fraser from Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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