Police aren't optimistic about the fate of a missing Hellam Township man and his Chester County girlfriend, who were last seen on the Susquehanna River in his boat about 5:40 p.m. March 20.
On Thursday, police and river rescue personnel towed Cody Wilkenson's boat to the Hellam Township police station, where police did a preliminary examination.
The 15-foot fiberglass Cobia boat had been partially submerged with water above the sides when it was found in the middle of Lake Clarke between the islands and the York County shore, according to Hellam Township Police Chief Mark Sowers.
"The boat was in reverse gear ... and the key was still in the 'on' position," Sowers said.
Mishap suspected: Sowers said nothing on the boat or in Wilkenson's truck suggested he and casual girlfriend Elizabeth Dorsaneo were victims of foul play.
Police now suspect Wilkenson and Dorsaneo drowned after being thrown or falling into the water.
"That's our theory at this point," Sowers said.
The chief said river-rescue personnel told him the water temperature of the river is about 40 degrees, meaning without proper gear a person would begin to suffer symptoms of hypothermia within minutes.
Those symptoms likely would have rendered the couple unable to climb back into the boat, he said.
Wilkenson, 42, of the 1000 block of Acco Lane, was reported missing Thursday by several family members, Sowers said; Dorsaneo, 55, of Thorndale, was reported missing Saturday by her family.
The boat: The motorboat was in poor repair, with pieces missing, and was found partially submerged on Saturday by a boater, the chief said.
Instead of calling authorities, the boater returned Sunday and began towing the boat, but it became stuck on a sandbar just south of Green Island and he abandoned it there, police said.
The boater called police once the story about the missing couple was made public, as did many witnesses who had seen the boat.
Police found the boat on Monday and recovered it Thursday with the help of Blue Rock River Rescue and Lake Clarke River Rescue, Sowers said.
It is still registered to a man in Berks County, but he was able to provide police with a bill of sale confirming Wilkenson bought it from him in September, according to the chief.
The background: Lower Windsor Township Police on Monday found Wilkenson's vehicle and attached boat trailer at Lock 2 on Lake Clarke, police said.
Wilkenson and Dorsaneo were last seen boating away from Lock 2 about 5:40 p.m. March 20, Sowers said.
River-rescue personnel told police that if the couple did drown, there's no way of knowing where there bodies are or how long it will take for them to be found, according to the chief.
"They indicated it could be some time," he said.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com.