Official: Northfield swimmer who went missing in Bristol likely died during ‘polar plunge’
A 32-year-old Northfield man who went missing Monday in Bristol is believed to have died while taking part in a dangerous new ritual in which young people plunge into frigid water and then post videos of their exploits on social media, a rescue official said.
State Fish and Game and Marine Patrol officials continued searching for the man yesterday near Profile Falls, a popular summertime swimming hole in the Smith River, but said the effort had become a recovery rather than a rescue. An initial search was called off about 9 p.m. Monday.
Though officials did not release the name of the victim, Michael Hoyt, a Northfield resident, confirmed it was his son, Aaron Hoyt.
Bristol fire Chief Steve Yannuzzi said yesterday that a woman at the scene first reported the disappearance shortly before 8 p.m. Monday. She indicated that she, the man and a third person had been participating in a “polar plunge,” during which swimmers, wearing few clothes and no life vests, jump into icy waters and then dare others to do the same.
Yannuzzi said the woman told officials that the man had been missing for approximately 30 minutes before she called for help.
Aaron Hoyt, a driver who has delivered papers for the Monitor since 2012, failed to report for a scheduled delivery early yesterday morning. His father said he has been living with him but declined to comment further.
Carol Downing, a Concord resident and Monitor subscriber, said Hoyt was her delivery man. She said he would stop and talk with her on occasion.
“Just a nice kid,” she said.
Hoyt is a graduate of Winnisquam Regional High School and became engaged in November to a local woman named Alison Gould, according to his Facebook page. Gould did not return requests for comment yesterday, but about 6 p.m. Monday she posted on the site: “To the waterfall!”
The falls, located just west of the intersection of the Smith and Pemigewasset rivers, are closed to swimmers after sunset – which was a little after 7 p.m. on Monday. Yannuzzi said it is unusual for people to be swimming there this early in the spring, when water temperatures are still near freezing and currents are dangerously fast.
Emergency and school officials have warned in recent days that exposure to freezing water can result in severe cramping, hypothermia, disorientation and respiratory distress. The concern has been especially high for teenagers, who seem to be the primary group taking part in the trending pastime.
“I look at this particular example – so tragic for the individual involved, the family and the community,” said Chris Corkery, principal at John Stark Regional High School in Henniker.
Fish and Game officials released a statement on the plunge Monday, just hours before Hoyt went missing, in which they asked young people to refrain from joining in.
“We are strongly urging youth not to participate, and we are asking families and community members to stay alert,” a dive team member said in the statement. “The potential for life-threatening incidents to occur, because of the Polar Plunge trend, is huge.”
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)