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O.C. Patrol Boat Kills Harbor's Black Swan

Craft hitting Rupert, a Newport fixture for more than two decades, was on its way to the site where a body was found.

September 14, 2006|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

A Harbor Patrol boat speeding to where a woman's body had been found Wednesday inadvertently ran over and killed Rupert, the black swan of Newport Harbor whose misadventures with fishing lines and burning boats made him a local legend for more than two decades.

The body of the unidentified woman was found wrapped in a blanket and floating off the dock of the Newport Harbor Yacht Club about 4:15 p.m., said Sgt. Bill Hartford, a spokesman for the Newport Beach Police Department.

"Right now it's being investigated as a probable homicide," Hartford said. The body was first reported by a dock worker at the club.

As police and coroner's examiners began their investigation, harbor denizens -- unaware of the woman's death -- were mourning the loss of the bird they considered an icon.

"Everybody in Newport Harbor knows him," Elizabeth Barnes, 42, said of the big Australian swan reputed to have once been a pet.

Over the years, Rupert's antics attracted notoriety. Velvety-rich black with a bright red beak, the 15-pound bird was known for chasing lifeguards, honking at boaters and causing at least one terrified pair of canoeists to capsize.

He was impaled by fishhooks, routinely swam toward burning boats, was nearly strangled by fishing line and once was found near death after coming upon a diesel fuel spill.

Several years ago, Rupert's longtime mate, Pearl, died under mysterious circumstances, prompting locals to initiate a fund drive to buy him a new wife. "He'd been really depressed," Barnes said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Perry Emsiek, 16, was in a sailboat near the Balboa Yacht Club practicing for a race when she saw the Orange County Harbor Patrol speed by.

"I looked up, and Rupert was in their wake," she said later. "We just kept looking and didn't see him pop back up, so we sailed over there, and he was floating upside down. There was blood everywhere in the water; it looked like he was pretty cut up."

Some familiar with the bird's habits speculated that he might have been drawn by the patrol boat's bright red color, which he seemed compelled to chase.

"He kind of got sucked under," said Sgt. David Ginther of the Harbor Patrol. "We all basically loved Rupert; he was part of the patrol."

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