Crabber and volunteer firefighter Doug Hands. Facebook photo.

Body of Cobb Island Crabber-Firefighter Recovered

The search for a crabber missing from his boat on the Potomac River has reached a tragic conclusion.

Doug Hands, a 49-year-old waterman and longtime volunteer firefighter, didn’t return from his trip out on the water Wednesday evening, and several agencies launched a search off Cobb Island. His boat was later found across the Potomac, in Westmoreland County, Va.

The Coast Guard launched multiple boat and helicopter crews, and more than a dozen other agencies also searched. On Thursday morning the Coast Guard suspended its search after 35 hours on the water, covering 663 square miles.

But some of the other agencies continued searching as weather allowed—despite the hostile conditions presented by Friday’s storm. The Cobb Island Volunteer Fire Department and EMS, where Hands was a firefighter for 32 years and lifetime member, announced that his body was recovered Saturday, Oct. 30 at 2:15 p.m.

The VFD released a statement saying, “The Hands Family as well as The Cobb Island Volunteer Fire Department and EMS would like to express our sincere gratitude and thanks to ALL the resources who have assisted us during the search. We ask that you continue to keep the Hands family and his fire department family in your thoughts and prayers during this tough and tragic time.”

The fire department released a long list of agencies that helped in the search for Hands, in addition to several private citizens searching from docks and by boat. Callouts for search volunteers spread all over social media, and many said Hands knew the river inside and out, making it surprising for him not to have returned home.

One of those helping in the effort was Jason Jones, a longtime friend and fellow waterman, who gathered a small search crew when he heard Hands was missing Wednesday evening. Hearing that Hands’ 22-foot center-console was found empty, he says they “got a sick feeling that it wasn’t good.”

Jones had seen Hands earlier the same day, selling him bait for crabbing and talking in Jones’ driveway. Jones was taking the day off from the water, he says, because the weather was rough. He tells Bay Bulletin he encouraged Hands to wait for better weather on Thursday (“No sense in rushing out there today; you may as well wait til tomorrow”), but Hands wanted to get an extra workday in. Hands had fixed up the 22-foot boat that belonged to his father after his father’s death, and recently jumped from part-time to making his living as a full-time waterman. Hands was looking to upgrade his boat, Jones tells us, and had gone to look at a larger boat that very morning.

When Jones and Hands’ other friends got word that he’d been recovered from the Potomac, Jones knew he wanted to help the waterman’s family. Hands leaves behind his wife, Tammy, and a six-year-old little girl. In a post that has since been shared 400 times, Jones came up with a crab feast raffle, offering a bushel of cooked crabs, a bushel of oysters, a 12-pack of beer, and a 12-pack of sodas. After just 24 hours, supporters from Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania had bought at least 350 chances at $20 per chance, or offered cash donations.

Jones will continue selling crab raffle chances until Friday, drawing a winner that evening to enjoy the crab feast this weekend. He plans to present Hands’ family with a check on Saturday. Anyone who would like to enter before Friday, Nov. 5 or make a donation can reach Jones at 921 240-216-4218 or Venmo @Jason-Jones921.

Jones says he’s blown away by the generosity of people both in and out of the Cobb Island community.

Meg Walburn Viviano