Coast Guard suspends search for missing man, woman

The Coast Guard suspended its search late Monday for two people who left Groton's Avery Point in a 14-foot sailboat after the boat was found on a beach near Orient Point, Long Island.

The search was suspended at 10:30 p.m. Monday, pending the development of new information, the Coast Guard said in a news release early Tuesday.

"Suspending a search for missing or overdue boaters is never an easy decision to make after an extensive search," Cmdr. Andrew Ely, chief of response, Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound, said in the release. "We search for every person as if we are searching for one of our own. We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Spencer Mugford and (Sofia) McKenna."

Mugford, 20, and McKenna, 21, were last seen via a social media posting around 2 a.m. Sunday, on a white paddle craft in the water by New London Ledge Light. On Sunday, both air and water temperatures were about 60 degrees, and there were 1 to 2 foot seas, according to Lt. Alaina Fagan, public affairs officer for Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound.

On Monday evening, the Southold, N.Y., Police Department found a 14-foot white and blue sailboat with no mast that was being used by Mugford and McKenna.

The sailboat was found on Truman's Beach near Orient Point, and local authorities said no one had walked up from the beach, Fagan said.

The Coast Guard confirmed it was the same craft that had been missing from the University of Connecticut's Avery Point campus, Fagan said. Groton City police said Monday evening that there was a report of a sailboat missing from the university but could not confirm it was the same vessel found by Southold police.

UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said by phone Monday evening that she was not immediately able to confirm whether either Mugford or McKenna are or were students at UConn Avery Point.

The Coast Guard, which had been leading the search and rescue effort, shifted Monday evening to looking for two people in the water before it suspended the search.

A Snapchat post included in a WFSB news report shows Mugford from behind, seated on a white board and holding a paddle. The Coast Guard had said earlier that it wasn't sure what kind of vessel they were on but suspected it was either a paddleboard or a kayak.

McKenna's car was found on the UConn Avery Point campus, so officials believe that's where the pair departed from. Her mother, Michelle, told WFSB on Monday morning that she received seven phone calls between 2:05 and 2:09 a.m. Sunday, while she was sleeping, and said she believed it was her daughter calling from Mugford's phone.

Mugford was last seen wearing a blue tank top and salmon shorts. A Coast Guard small boat crew found his shirt at Ledge Light on Sunday night, according to Fagan. A Facebook post from Mugford's sister, Aubrey, about him going missing had been shared more than 2,900 times as of 8:55 p.m. Monday.

The Coast Guard, which began searching for the pair around 7 p.m. Sunday,  searched more than 120 square miles with multiple vessels, including a 45-foot response boat from Coast Guard Station New London, and aircraft, including an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and an HC-144A Ocean Sentry aircraft, both from Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod.

Coast Guard officials have used computer-based modeling, which takes into account information like wind and sea conditions, to determine the likely path of the vessel. As time has gone on, that has resulted in a larger search area. By Monday afternoon, the Coast Guard had shifted its search to the Long Island coast.

In addition to the Coast Guard, two Navy boat crews, two Civil Air Patrol assets, the City of Groton Police Department, the Town of Groton Police Department, the Norwich Police Department, the Mystic Fire Department, the Connecticut State Police Department Dive Team, the state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, New York Parks Fishers Island, South East Marine Patrol, the Stonington Harbormaster, and TowBoatUS in Mystic also assisted.

Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound command center at (203) 468-4401 or on the radio at VHF-FM marine radio channel-16.

j.bergman@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version updates the ages of Spencer Mugford and Sofia McKenna, which the Coast Guard inadvertently swapped. It also corrects the spelling of Sofia, which the Coast Guard listed incorrectly in its press releases.

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