Police and Coast Guard helicopters and boats criss-crossed the Potomac River here yesterday in a massive search for two Washington couples who vanished during a boat outing Wednesday.
When the search was halted because of darkness, police had recovered one body. The fate of the other three persons and their boat remained a mystery.
With helicopters whirring overhead, some two dozen police and Coast Guart officers in search boats combed a 35-square-mile area from Hains Point to Fort Washington below Woodrow Wilson Bridge, finding few clues besides the body of Alberta Twyman, of 1445 Park Rd. NW, pulled from the river near the Naval Research Laboratory in Southeast Washington.
Police also found identification cards belonging to the other three persons as well as several life jackets but said they were not sure the jackets belonged to the foursome.
The three missing persons are Arthur Perry, 43, also of 1445 Park Rd. NW, and Lee Norman Champ, 42, and Myshella Robinson, 32, both of 510 15th St. NE.
Perry, who lived with Twyman at the Park Road address, and Champ worked together in the maintenance division of the D.C. Department of Recreation. The two couples were good friends and often went fishing together, friends and neighbors said yesterday.
Before leaving on their fishing trip Wednesday evening, Champ and Robinson left their 18-month-old daughter, Nicola and their 6-month-old son, Lee, with a neighbor.
"They said they would be back about eleven or twelve o'clock," said Helen Mae Crawford, the next-door neighbor, who was keeping the couple's children.
"It's not like them to leave their children for this long," another neighbor said, "They loved those kids."
Leon Harper, Champ's friend, said he became concerned when he discovered that the two couples had not returned by Thursday morning. Harper said he rides with Champ and Perry to work every day.
"He (Champ) didn't show," Harper said. 'It's not like him. If he isn't going to work he will call me."
Harper, who was supposed to go fishing with the two couples Wednesday but decided to do an odd job instead, said, "I got really concerned when I found out they left their two kids next door. Champ is so concerned about those two kids. They don't leave them for long."
Crawford said she also got concerned when the couple had not returned by midnight Wednesday. "I sat up and waited until two (a.m.) and until three (a.m.). I said to myself, "my Lord, when are they coming home?"
Harper and Crawford said they contacted a roomer who lives in Champ and Robinson's two-story home. The roomer had not heard from the two couples either.
Harper called D.C. Police, and the search began Thursday evening. Early yesterday, Champ's 1969 yellow Buick Skylark and trailer were found in the parking lot at Gravely Point off the George Washington Parkway near National Airport, a common parking area for boating parties.
Helicopters from the U.S. Park Police, the Maryland State Police and the D.C. Police swept over the Potomac River, while eight boats from the U.S. Coast Guard and the D.C. Police Department's Harbor Patrol dragged the water.
Twyman's body was recovered about 9:30 a.m., in the water near where the Potomac and Anacostia rivers converge. The Harbor Patrol intensified its search in that area from Bolling Air Force Base to Blue Plains.
Some personal belongings of the three remaining missing persons were also recovered from the water. Driver's licenses belonging to Champ and Robinson were found. An identification card belonging to Perry was found on Twyman's body.
By last night, police had found no clue of Champ's 20-foot blue-and-white fiberglass boat and its Chrysler outboard motor.
Harper said the boat was a 1973-74 model. "He had just gotten it out of the shop," he said.
He said Champ had had some work done on the steering part of the boat. It was an open boat that could seat four persons.
"I don't think any of [the foursome] could swim," said Harper, who said he has been out on the boat with Champ and Perry on several occasions.
He said the boat contained flotation cushions, which passengers normally sat on. However, he said he didn't know if it had flotation tanks.
"It's a sturdy boat," he said.
Harper said Champ "isn't a very experienced boater."
He said Perry, Champ and he generally would go fishing in the boat about two or three times a month.
Throughout yesterday, neighbors, relatives and friends of the two couples waited by their telephones for word of the missing persons.
"Why did they have to go out?" asked one of Champ's coworkers as he hit his fist on the hood of a truck parked in front of Champ's house when he learned of Twyman's death.
Champ and Robinson have been living at the 15th Street address for about six years, neighbors said.
Twyman and Perry had been living in an apartment at the Park Road address for about four years, according to the resident manager.
Howard Gasaway, director of the maintenance division for the D.C. Department of Recreation, said Champ and Perry are good employes. Champ works as a maintenance worker, setting up playgrounds, ball fields and basketball courts. Perry is a masonry helper. "They are two nice guys," Gasaway said.
Neighbors said Twyman worked as a cleaning woman in a building on 14th Street NW. Robinson works as a dietitian for a retirement home in Maryland.
Police officials said they would resume the river search about 9 a.m. today.