Accident Database

Report ID# 49914

  • PFD Not Worn or Present
  • Does not Apply
  • Inexperience

Accident Description

A fishing trip turns tragic on the Merrimack River, leaving a family to mourn

Alec Bronchuk, 20, drowned in the Merrimack River in Concord while fishing in June.


Concord Monitor staff

Published: 7/13/2019

Scraping through the brush along the Merrimack River as cold raindrops poured overhead, Jake Bronchuk hoped each branch he pushed aside would be the one to reveal his son.

It was June 13, and Alec Bronchuk had been missing since early that morning in Concord. A day of fishing on the Merrimack River with his older brother, Sean Donahue, had taken a turn when their kayaks began to sink and both fell into the quick current of the river. Sean managed to reach the river’s west bank and called for help, setting off a search for Alec that involved Fish and Game, State Police, Marine Patrol, and the Concord fire and police departments.

As these agencies deployed their resources and scoured the river and surrounding area for Alec, his parents kept looking. Jake and Michelle Bronchuk went up and down the river’s banks between the Sewalls Falls Bridge and the old dam, just short of a mile.

As the hours passed, hope for Alec’s rescue dwindled. About 300 yards downstream from where Sean last saw Alec, Jake found a white Nike sneaker floating near the bank. It was Alec’s shoe. “I knew at that point he was gone,” Jake said, sitting in the living room of his Merrimack home with Michelle and Sean.

Jake began to pick up items he found along the bank – a deflated football, a golf ball, a small rock with a flower painted on it. He held onto these things, because it wasn’t until the following day that a Fish and Game diver would recover Alec’s body from the river. Until then, Jake and Michelle didn’t know if they’d see their 20-year-old son again.

“I thought for sure we were going to be burying a football, a rock and a golf ball instead of our son,” Jake said.

‘He loved nature’

Alec Bronchuk was always running out the door, to football practice or lacrosse, to play a round of golf or to go hunting or fishing. He still found time to be home in Merrimack, playing NHL video games and recording music with his brothers or writing poetry in his room. But he was most comfortable in the outdoors, a passion that his father, Jake, had passed on to Alec and his two brothers, Sean and Jesse.


Jake grew up on the South Shore in Weymouth, Mass., and Michelle is from South Boston. When he was in seventh grade, Jake joined his school’s Fish and Game Club and was drawn to his teacher’s stories of hunting trips in “the great North Woods.”

“I spent my youth sort of day-dreaming of that kind of a lifestyle,” Jake said.

In the early 2000s, Jake and Michelle moved with their boys to New Hampshire and settled in Merrimack. “I started living the outdoorsman’s dream from Day 1 and got my fishing and hunting licenses, and my boys were my constant companions,” he said.

All the boys started hunting and fishing at a young age with their father. Jake remembers spending hours waterfowling with Alec, who eventually started going on his own trips with his brothers and friends as he got older. And the boys’ skills in the woods and on the water began to surpass those of their father. Jake smiles and jokes that he was Elmer Fudd because “we never caught anything” when he took his sons.

“Usually the first thing Alec wanted to do when he got home was rub it in my face that he actually bagged something,” Jake said, laughing. “And then he’d chase his mother around the house with the carcass while she was screaming to get it out of the house.”

“It never got old,” Michelle said. “He loved nature.”

The accident

Alec had just finished his sophomore year at Plymouth State University, where he was majoring in criminal justice and playing football. He was still trying to figure out what he wanted to do. He was considering switching his major to psychology, maybe transferring to another school. He considered serving in the military and had been in touch with a recruiter.

Summer was getting underway, and Alec and Sean were spending almost every morning on the water. “We were on the striper grind, so we’d go down to Newburyport and Hampton,” Sean said. They learned from an article online that the section of the Merrimack River by the Sewalls Falls Bridge had some big Atlantic salmon. Alec, Sean and Jesse all went to fish the river in June. They had a good day, but came away with only bites.

Sean and Alec returned to the same spot around dawn the next day. They set off from the boat launch, their two kayaks connected so they wouldn’t drift apart. They didn’t bring life jackets with them.

They paddled to a couple of different spots around the launch area, getting bites here and there.  After a couple of hours, they tried moving again. Sean says he felt a rush of cold water on his back as they paddled backwards to unhinge their anchor. The kayak had submerged and water began rushing into the boat.


Moments later, Sean was in the river. He looked to his brother, and Alec was still in his kayak but it too had begun to take on water. When Alec fell in, he brought with him a backpack he had in the kayak. They tried swimming to the shore, but it was exhausting to fight the current. “Before we hit the rapids, we were just kind of talking to each other,” Sean said. “Once that happened … It went by so fast, but it felt so long. It was just immense power in that water.”

Fish and Game and Marine Patrol officers noted the river’s force during the search. Fish and Game couldn’t deploy its dive team until the following day, after the river was slowed down and the water level dropped. Authorities had been in contact with the state’s Dam Bureau to control the river’s flow and aid the search.

As Sean made it closer to the bank, he felt his feet touch the bottom. He tried to dig in for better traction, but when he did he was pulled under the surface. “That was almost a huge mistake,” he said. “I hit a deep pool, and I thought that was it for me. But somehow I was able to come back up and surface.”

Just then, Sean, still moving with the current, slammed into a large rock and instinctively wrapped his arms around it. He stabilized himself on the rock and looked again for his brother.“Alec was floating by and I was trying to tell him to do what I was doing,” Sean said. “I went to catch my breath and jump onshore. Once I got there, I was just calling for him from that spot and I wasn’t getting a response.”

Sean started walking – running – down the bank, looking for Alec. He said he couldn’t see straight and stumbled under the exhaustion of escaping the river. He finally dropped to the ground and began screaming for help.

A man walking his dog on the Sewalls Falls trail passed by when he saw Sean, who asked if he could use his phone to call 911. At about 7 a.m. Thursday, Concord Fire responded to the call of a missing kayaker in the Merrimack River. About 32 hours later, a diver recovered Alec’s body in 9 feet of water. He was about 30 yards from the shore.


Authorities recover body of 20-year-old kayaker in Merrimack River in Concord


Concord Monitor staff

Published: 6/14/2019

The search for a missing kayaker on the Merrimack River in Concord ended on its second day as a diver with the Fish and Game Department recovered the 20-year-old man’s body from the bottom of the river on Friday. Authorities identified the victim as Alec Bronchuk of Merrimack. He was fishing with his older brother, Sean Donahue, 24, early Thursday morning when their two kayaks began to take on water. Both men got out of their kayaks as they began to sink and attempted to swim with the current towards the western shoreline, according to State Police. Neither of the men had life jackets in their kayaks.


Donahue swam to a rock about 20 feet from the shore and eventually reached safety. He walked the shoreline searching for his brother before finding a passerby in the area who called 911 for help.



The call was made about 7 a.m. Thursday, setting off a search effort that involved Fish and Game as well as State Police-Marine Patrol and Concord’s police and fire departments. Bronchuk was found about 30 yards from shore Friday about 2:45 p.m.

Fish and Game Sgt. Geoffrey Pushee said it was a difficult day for all involved, none more than the family of this young man. “No one wants to see a family lose a son or a daughter or anyone,” Pushee told reporters as the staging area near the Sewalls Falls bridge was being broken down. “In this case, it’s a pretty close-knit family and they’re dealing with it as best they can. I’m just happy we could bring some closure to the family.”Shortly after Bronchuk’s body was recovered, the dive team returned to the staging area to shed their equipment. A man walked over and hugged each of the divers.

While the search teams employed underwater cameras and sonar devices, it was a single diver who found the body under 9 feet of water about half a mile downstream from the Sewalls Falls Bridge boat launch where they had set out Thursday morning. “With the river currents (Thursday) it’s possible he drowned farther upstream and was pushed down into this deep hole,” Pushee said. The dive crew had to wait until Friday to go in because the river’s current was too strong Thursday. After working with the state’s Dam Bureau to hold back water at the Franklin Falls Dam, the current slowed and the water level dropped enough to send divers in when the search resumed early Friday morning.

On Thursday, the two kayaks were discovered in the middle of the river in Concord. Some of their personal belongings had been located earlier in the day, including what appeared to be a fishing net. Authorities are urging all boaters to use life jackets. It is required by state law that each boater have a wearable life jacket with them whenever they are underway.

“It’s extremely important any time of year to be wearing a life jacket, but especially where there are still cold water conditions, swift-moving water and very strong currents,” Pushee said. “This could definitely have been an avoidable accident if a life jacket had been worn.”


Search launched for missing kayaker on Merrimack River 

  • Concord Fire Chief Dan Andrus at a search and rescue operation on the Merrimack River off Second Street in Concord on Thursday, June 13, 2019. Leah Willingham—Monitor staff » Buy this Image

  • Rescue workers during a search operation on the Merrimack River off Second Street in Concord on Thursday, June 13, 2019. Leah Willingham—Monitor staff » Buy this Image

Monitor staff
Published: 6/13/2019 9:39:42 AM

A New Hampshire resident is missing after their kayak overturned on the Merrimack River in Concord on Thursday morning, officials said. The identity of the person has not yet been released. 

Fire Chief Dan Andrus said Concord fire crews responded this morning at 7:02 a.m. to a report of two kayaks overturned on the river. One of the kayakers was able to make it to safety on a rock before calling 911. He was uninjured. 

The fire department immediately deployed two boats and crews and launched a search, Andrus said, but were not able to find the missing kayaker. Andrus said crews had located some personal belongings of the kayaker downstream. The kayak itself has not been located. 

State police crews are helping out in the search by land and by air, and boats from the Bow and Hooksett fire departments are also on the scene, which stretches at least from Second Street near Beaver Meadow School to the Sewalls Falls Bridge. New Hampshire Fish and Game officials are also on scene. 

Andrus said the kayakers were last seen early this morning in the area of the Sewalls Falls Bridge. “At this point, the search has not produced any kind of finding,” Andrus said. “We will continue to search.” 

Missing Kayaker Identified As Merrimack Man, PSU Student

Alec Bronchuk, 20, of Merrimack drowned in Concord's Merrimack River Thursday after his kayak took on water and he tried to swim to shore.

By Tony Schinella, Patch Staff
Jun 14, 2019

\MERRIMACK, NH — The New Hampshire State Police Marine Patrol has identified the man who drowned after a kayaking accident on the Merrimack River on Thursday. Alec Bronchuk, 20, of Merrimack, was found on June 14, 2019, not far from where the accident occurred. The discovery of his body, at around 2:45 p.m. on Friday, ended a 32-hour search after Concord Fire and Rescue teams and others were called to the river at around 7 a.m. on Thursday for a report of two kayakers losing control of their boats. 

The kayaks, according to Lt. Crystal McLain of the Marine Patrol, began taking on water near the Sewalls Falls boat ramp. Bronchuk and his older brother, Sean Donahue, got out of the kayaks and attempted to swim to shore. Donahue made it to a rock about 20-feet from shore while Bronchuk was last seen attempting to get to shore.

"After Mr. Donahue got himself to safety, he walked the shoreline in an attempt to find his brother," McLain stated. "After unsuccessfully searching the nearby area, he found an unrelated person who called 9-1-1 for help."

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