Richard Sweezey, a Mercer Island man who disappeared more than two years ago while out on his boat, was found in Lake Washington last week. His family received the news on Friday Nov. 7.
Sweezey had been in the water for 840 days, the family wrote in an online update, and “in the end it was a stroke of luck that brought him home.”
“In the search for a sunken hydroplane, he was located at 162 feet deep, just off Webster Point on the southwestern edge of our search zone,” they wrote.
Jeremy Engdahl-Johnson, Sweezey’s son, said he felt relief and a sense of closure.
“This has been a huge mystery for us,” he said. “It turned out to be exactly what we thought … but the uncertainty was painful.”
Sweezey drowned on July 20, 2012, according to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, and his death is classified as an accident. He was 67 years old.
“I live in New York, but I was in town that day. We had breakfast together,” Engdahl-Johnson said. “He went out at about 1 p.m., and from what we learned on Friday, our working hypothesis was more or less correct.”
His family thought that he must have been working on the boat and gone overboard near Webster Point, just north of the 520 bridge. Sweezey often drifted off shore in that area while making repairs to his boat.
The boat drifted for a few hours and was found in Kirkland at about 6 p.m., Engdahl-Johnson said.
Sweezey’s family – Engdahl-Johnson, wife Rae Ann and daughter Kinley Clifford – started an Indiegogo campaign after he went missing. They raised more than $41,000 to fund a search using sonar technology from InnerSpace Exploration, a local non-profit that recovers drowning victims in deep water and in other complicated situations.
Engdahl-Johnson said it was one of the most extensive drowning victim recovery efforts ever performed in Washington State, searching a majority of the lake bottom north of 520.
“Most of the time, when someone drowns, you know where they are,” Engdahl-Johnson said. “It’s amazing how they found him.”
A company called Seabotix Inc. was looking for the hydroplane with sonar equipment by Webster Point, which is “the first place we looked,” Engdahl-Johnson said. About 13 divers and the Harbor Patrol helped with the extraction, he said. The body was identified with dental records.
Drowning recovery is very difficult, especially in Lake Washington. The average depth of the lake is 108 feet, and its deepest spot is 214 feet.
“The body didn’t surface because it’s so cold down there,” Engdahl-Johnson said, though other news organizations reported that the body was “spotted” by a Seattle Police Harbor boat.
The original police investigation in 2012 began after a Kirkland resident reported that an empty boat had drifted into the shoreline by Heritage Park.
Deputies started a search of the lake near where the boat was found. The marine unit, a Sheriff’s office helicopter, the U.S. Coast Guard and Seattle Police Marine Patrol assisted in the search, according Reporter archives.
Deputies found a portable generator onboard running and a tool that was connected to the generator outside the boat dangling into the water. The boat was usually moored at a slip at the Queen City Yacht Club in Portage Bay in Seattle. Sweezey’s car was found in the club parking lot.
Deputies spoke to a friend of Sweezey’s at the club who said Sweezey had intended to take his boat into the Lake Washington area to do some repairs.
Working on the boat was a “labor of love” for Sweezey, Engdahl-Johnson said. He had invested a decade in the restoration of his late father’s 48-foot Chris Craft Roamer, a boat called the “Tern” that had once belonged to Bill Boeing Jr.
Sweezey’s friend said that he had no life jackets, so he gave Sweezey one to use for the day. Deputies said the lifejacket was still on the boat when they found it, according to Reporter archives.
According to his obituary in the Seattle Times, Sweezey was an entrepreneur, electrician, rancher, gardener, pilot, Vietnam veteran, lover of natural beauty, supporter of the arts and the environment, graceful skier on snow and water and a devoted husband and father.
He graduated from Mercer Island High School in 1962, and was CEO of his father’s electrical contracting company, City Electric, for 20 years. He grew up boating on Lake Washington, sailing and waterskiing from an early age.
Engdahl-Johnson said that his family owes a “huge debt of gratitude” to everyone who helped with the search, including the Divers Institute of Technology, the dive team that helped with the recovery.
“With this news comes the possibility of closure for our family after almost two and a half years of wondering and agonizing over his disappearance,” Sweezey’s family wrote. “We would like to thank you all for your unwavering support and generosity, and to also thank Innerspace Exploration, the King County Sheriff’s Missing Persons Unit and the King County Medical Examiner and for their diligence in bringing us the answers that we so dearly needed.”