The search has been suspended for the Bellingham man who fell into the Skagit River while fishing Saturday, July 14, according to his friends.
Niall Hackett, 51, was fishing on the river with his dog when witnesses on the bank saw him fall into the water after his boat hit something, said Brian Steele, a close friend and business partner of Hackett's. Witnesses called 911 as soon as they saw that he couldn't get back into the boat.
Skagit County deputies responded quickly and found his boat adrift in the river near Lyman with the dog still safe inside. Boats, dogs and helicopters searched the river and its shores Saturday, Sunday and Monday without luck before the search and recovery effort was suspended for a week due to the high, murky waters, Steele said.
Steele described Hackett as an experienced fisherman who had spent years on the river and knew it well. But the river was dangerous on Saturday, he said, running high and cold.
"Our best hope is that we find his body," Steele said.
Hackett lived in Bellingham's Edgemoor neighborhood with his wife, Terri, and two sons still in school.
"He was a remarkable guy," Steele said. "He's just been a really good mentor, friend and business partner."
Hackett had retired about a year ago from geotechnical engineering and testing company Materials Testing and Consulting, which he had bought in 1995. His wife is the president of the company, which has offices in Bellingham, Burlington and Olympia and studies land before construction projects and tests construction products such as concrete and steel.
"People in the office are really rocked," Steele said. "In a lot of ways, Niall was the character of the company."
Hackett grew up in Belfast in Northern Ireland. With his thick Irish accent and crushing handshake, he made an impression.
"He had a huge personality. He filled the room," Steele said. "If you met him, you never forgot him because he was such a character."
Hackett's sharp business sense and people skills were obvious, Steele said, but what was more subtle was his incredible generosity. He remodeled the kitchen of one of his employees and set up a room in his house for another employee who had heart surgery so she could be cared for.
He was an avid member of the Bellingham Sunrise Rotary Club and attended Christ the King in Bellingham. He threw amazing Super Bowl parties and cooked a delicious prime rib.
He loved his family, was a loyal friend and cared about the growth of his employees, Steele said. Through his work with the company, Hackett's fingerprints can be seen up and down Interstate 5 on schools, hospitals and civic centers. Locally, he worked on buildings at Western Washington University, for the city of Bellingham and for the county.
"The work of his hands is still standing," Steele said. "That's a neat image, that he's left his mark on these places that mean something to people."
The name of the Rotary Club was updated July 18, 2012.
Reach ZOE FRALEY at email@example.com or call 756-2803.