NORTHPORT — Those watching from the docks saw Terry Warren and his weathered green boat leave Northport’s G. Marsten Dame Marina for rolling waters under an ominous sky.
They might be the last to see Warren alive.
Responders called off a fruitless, near-24 hour search for the missing 57-year-old Thursday after scouring Grand Traverse Bay’s northwestern waters.
“I don’t know what possessed him to go out in weather like that,” said Northport Harbormaster Susan Holtz. “He told somebody it was his first time going out this season.”
Holtz said Warren, a Northport resident, had sights set due south toward Ingalls Bay. In normal conditions, it’s an easy, 5- to 10-minute trip, she said.
Wednesday offered far from normal conditions.
Waves neared 4-6 feet, Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich estimated, and the National Weather Service noted wind gusts up to 16 mph through the afternoon.
“Going into Ingalls Bay would’ve been pretty rough,” Holtz said. “I don’t know if he made it that far.”
Warren’s Aero-Craft only measured around 16 or 17 feet, she added. Borkovich described the vessel as small and in “very old, dilapidated condition.”
He said Warren, whose boat trailer and golf cart still sit in the marina parking lot, wasn't a seasoned sailor.
“He was not overly familiar — not a guy who’s out boating every day,” Borkovich said. “And it was not a good night for boating, at all.”
The search, conducted by Michigan State Police troopers with help from the U.S. Coast Guard, Sheriff’s Department, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and Leelanau Township Fire Department — mounted just an hour after Warren’s last sighting. Locals called county dispatch after seeing his unmanned vessel run up shore off Ingalls, due south of Northport.
Troopers found its engine warm and ignition still switched on. Personal items and fishing gear were left inside.
Knocks on Warren’s door drew no answer, and troopers had little success canvassing neighbors or calling Warren’s workplace.
“Nobody’s seen him or heard from him,” MSP Lt. Ryan Tabaczka said.
An initial working theory was Warren had been thrown into the waves, according to a Coast Guard release.
Coast Guard, Fire and Sheriff’s Department marine crews took to the waters immediately, and by sunset efforts were bolstered by USCG Air Station Traverse City air support. Lt. John Geary said crews searched from the skies through the night and again early Thursday morning.
“We start off with a very localized area and as time goes on, with wind calculations and drift, that search area gets wider and wider,” Geary said.
Searching focused mainly on the bay, but also spanned the around 4.5 miles from Ingalls to Northport. Waters in that stretch run as deep as 150 feet.
Troopers and deputies also searched shorelines and knocked on doors along the Ingalls Bay coast.
The mission turned to recovery shortly before being called off entirely around noon Thursday, according to Borkovich.
“We’re hoping it’s a mistake the boat ran ashore and he’s at a buddy’s house or something,” he said.
Witnesses told police Warren had ventured out on his own that evening.
Holtz said Warren initially prepared to go out and help someone with a jet ski, but opted to make the trip anyway after that request was called off. She wasn’t sure why.
Many others avoided the waters entirely on Wednesday. Holtz was expecting several groups in preparation for Saturday’s Northport Wine and Craft Beverage Festival, but after assessing conditions, all waited out the trip.
“Of all the nights to go out by yourself, it wasn’t a perfect night,” Holtz said.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed, hoping he’s okay,” Borkovich added. “But the skies are darkening, so to speak.”
Anyone with information on Warren should call Leelanau County Dispatch at 231- 256-8800 or the MSP Cadillac Post at 231-779-6040.