The worst fears of many were realized Thursday when responders recovered the body of a 67-year-old boater who'd gone missing before a tornado-like thunderstorm hit the Jersey Shore earlier this week.
"We are heartbroken to announce that our dear band mate and friend Matt Conway was finally located today after going missing Tuesday rowing his boat in the Toms River," fellow members of the Shamrock and Thistle Pipes and Drums wrote Thursday afternoon.
"The loss of our dear brother is immeasurable and will be felt by us for years to come."
His wife, Patricia, reported Conway, 67, of Ocean Gate missing around 4 p.m. on Tuesday.
Known to row for exercise, Conway was seen on security camera photos released by the U.S. Coast Guard shortly before he left a dock on the Toms River in a silver rowboat that morning.
A fellow boater also told Daily Voice he'd seen him heading out into the river at 9:40 a.m.
"I said good morning to him," James Hudnut recalled. "About a half hour later he was fishing in the channel.
"The river wasn't even rough yet, but there was wind building up. I figured he knew the weather wasn't meant to turn for the worst until 3-4 hours later," Hudnut added. "I didn't feel concerned because I know he's an avid boater and even noticed he had very nice PFD (life jacket)."
The search was reportedly suspended early Thursday after Conway's jacket and rowboat were found. A short time later, Seaside Park and Ocean Beach firefighters and EMS crews were called to Island Beach State Park.
A medical examiner's autopsy will confirm the cause of death,Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer said.
Fellow members of the Shamrock and Thistle corps, with whom Conway played bagpipes, asked that people "pray for his wife Pat and their family during this very difficult time."
"We thank the Coast Guard, NJ State Police and all of the first responders who spent the past few days and nights tirelessly trying to locate Matt," they added. "We will miss you more than ever, brother. May you rest in peace and fill the heavens with your bagpipes!"
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