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News Staff

Solo rower missing in Atlantic 

October 2, 2001


Family and friends of Dr. Nenad Belic are hoping for the best, but worried after he set off an emergency beacon just 230 miles shy of completing his solo quest to cross the Atlantic Ocean by rowboat.

 Irish and British authorities called off a search late Monday that failed to turn up any sign of the retired Chicago cardiologist's boat. But the absence of debris gives his family hope that he is off western Ireland, where he transmitted a homing signal of distress.

 His wife Ellen Stone Belic, of the Stone Container Corp. family, said that "they haven't found anything'' and hoped it was a good sign.

 "He was in extremely good shape,'' she said. "I'm just waiting to see what happens.''

 His son, Academy Award-nominated documentary maker Adrian Belic, who attended Evanston Township High School, was heading to Ireland on Monday in hopes of continuing the search, possibly privately.

 "We hope and believe this is a little difficulty, and it'll come out fine and my father's a survivor,'' Adrian Belic said.

 "He was almost there,'' said Maryland oceanographer Jenifer Clark, who has been helping Belic plot a course. "He covered 2,800 miles in a rowboat by himself since May. He absolutely loved it.''

 Belic, 62, who is originally from Yugoslavia, left Chatham, Mass., on May 11 in a red cedar boat measuring 21 feet long by 5 feet wide.

 He set off his emergency beacon at 10:30 p.m. Sunday Irish time about 230 miles off the Irish coast. A 17-hour search commenced, according to Roselyne Skeffington, a spokeswoman for HM Coastguard in Falmouth, England.

 The thermos-sized beacon device, called an EPIRB--Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon--sends out a satellite transmission that enables rescuers to home in within a few feet of its signals.

 Aircraft from the Royal Air Force and Irish Coast Guard arrived on the scene by midnight. Two merchant vehicles assisted in the search, Skeffington said.

 "They hovered over the area for four hours,'' because they could see his beacon flashing, Clark said.

 Two life rafts were lowered to the area of the homing device in the darkness, Skeffington said.

 "They thought they found him, but they were wrong,'' Clark said. All they discovered was the device floating in the water with no sign of his boat. 

Gale-force winds were at the scene, Skeffington said. Waves in the vicinity went from 16 to 27 feet in a six-hour period, she said.

 A watch officer at the Falmouth station told the Associated Press late Monday that the effort was called off after an area of more than 1,000 square miles had been searched.

 "I feel like he's a part of our family--we've been talking twice a week since May,'' Clark said. "I don't want to lose him.''

 Water pressure activates the EPIRB.

 "There is a possibility that the EPIRB got wet or got separated from the boat somehow. He could have dropped [it] and kept on going,'' said Kenneth Crutchlow of the London-based Ocean Rowing Society. "There is a worse-case scenario that we prefer not to talk about at the moment.''

 Belic is trying to become the third person to row from Cape Cod to Europe and the seventh to cross the Atlantic solo, west to east, from any starting point.

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