By Cheryl Costello
A week after avid angler and family man Ernie Sigmon III, 44, disappeared from his center-console on the Bay, a volunteer-led search of southern Maryland continues to grow.
Private citizens with boats, drones, and even planes—many of whom never met Sigmon—have been braving extreme temperatures to try and bring him home. The search effort has swelled into a coordinated Facebook effort with 8,000 members.
Bay Bulletin joined Sigmon’s family on the water Tuesday. Bella Sigmon, 20, yells out for her dad each time they search. “If he is on land and he hears me, I’m thinking that will give him a little bit more fight,” she says.
Sigmon went out fishing on Wednesday, Dec. 29. His 25-foot Sportsman was found running in circles on the Bay off Plum Point. Sigmon has been missing ever since. The water was in the 40s that afternoon, but his family isn’t giving up hope or leaving a stone unturned.
“I just can’t imagine my dad struggling to do anything, so I think there’s a possibility he made it,” says his son, 22-year-old Ernie Sigmon IV. “We’re looking everywhere we can under the assumption that he is somewhere, maybe just really cold or confused.”
Bay Bulletin joined Sigmon’s mom, dad and stepmom along with the missing man’s two children when they gathered at Flag Ponds Nature Park in Lusby.
Icy trails and the thought of wading through water didn’t stop them. “We’re just working our way south,” his son explains when asked how they’re choosing where to search. “The Coast Guard provided us with a general line of drift that they would expect to occur when someone is trying to swim to shore.”
Before searching the beach they looked through the windows of a building, in port-a-potties, around the ponds, and with binoculars in the woods. For the Sigmon family, this mission is therapeutic. “Being out here helps us to cope with what’s actually going on,” his father Ernie “Spanky” Sigmon II says.
The family has hundreds of people helping in the search. They are on foot covering shorelines from Deale to the mouth of the Potomac River. They are on boats, on land, and at the controls of drones. Some have even volunteered their planes to search from above. Much of it is coordinated on the newly-created Facebook page SOMD Search Parties, which gained more than 8,000 members in less than a week of its existence.
People have prayed and people have posted fliers. “If anyone ever knew him, he has a heart as big as a mountain,” the missing man’s father says.
The Sigmon family feels government agencies should be doing more. But Lauren Moses, spokesperson for Maryland Natural Resources Police, says “Police have been searching every single day since becoming aware of this incident. They have used every available resource to assist them with this search, such as sonar equipment, boat crews, and allied agencies.”
Sigmon’s son showed us a picture of a planer that was found several miles south of where his dad’s boat was found still running. The board is used to organize fishing lines, and protrudes from the stern of the boat. Sigmon IV believes its discovery may be one clue to what happened to his father.
“He was working on the planer boards trying to get them out. He stands on the sides of the boat when he does it—you have to. And then he either lost his balance or a rogue wave came out of nowhere in the middle of the Bay,” he speculates.
Sigmon was alone, and his son says he likely was not wearing a life jacket. But he was a skilled fisherman and on his new Sportsman several times a week.
His family says one good thing born out of their constant worry is community. “I hope that down the road we can help families, other families. Just hopefully we can do whatever we could as much as they’ve done for us,” says Sigmon II.
“We’re not going to stop looking until we find him,” says Bella Sigmon. “He would do that for us.”
Editor’s note: At press time, the search continued for Ernie Sigmon III. We’ll update this story with any new information at chesapeakebaymagazine.com/bay-bulletin.