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East Hampton Native Missing at Sea, Presumed Dead

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 18:34

Final journey for Navy veteran with terminal cancer 

Michael Bye on the boat he had planned to rename Mike's Final Quest
Bye Family

Michael Bye, an East Hampton native who left Riverhead for Florida on his 35-foot powerboat in late October, went missing off the Carolina coast on Nov. 21 and is presumed dead, his family said this week.

Mr. Bye’s family knew there was a chance he wouldn’t complete the trip — he had received a terminal cancer diagnosis earlier this year — but they did not imagine his journey would end quite like this. Crews from nine Coast Guard stations searched 10,000 square miles by boat and helicopter, according to Chesapeake Bay Magazine, but found no trace of the 50-year-old or his boat. The search was called off after four days.

Mr. Bye was no stranger to the sea. He had served as a Navy quartermaster petty officer second class and was an expert navigator, had been a merchant seaman, and held his 100-ton master captain’s license.

“The only time he was truly happy was when he was on the water,” his father, Sidney Bye, said from Sebastian, Fla., last Thursday.

The younger Mr. Bye was diagnosed with throat cancer about five years ago.

He lost part of his tongue as a result, his father said, and he had difficulty speaking. After a new treatment about a year ago, he was briefly declared cancer-free, but then the disease “came back with a vengeance.”

Mr. Bye had been planning his voyage to Florida for almost a year. “He had Intracoastal Waterway maps from one end of the house to the other mapping out his course and planning it all out,” his wife, Renee Belgrado-Bye, said Monday. “He was a very smart seaman.”

He received his advanced captain’s license the day before he learned that his cancer was terminal, she said, but was determined to make the trip anyway.

“Everybody has a bucket list,” his wife said.

“He was just stubborn as hell,” his father said. “He told me he was going to die, but he wasn’t just going to lay down and let it happen.”

Mr. Bye, who lived in Southampton, had only recently purchased the vessel, called the H.M.S. Me II. He planned to rename it Mike’s Final Quest when he arrived in Florida.

He intended to live aboard the Final Quest at a marina “until his last call . . . and we were going to take care of him through the end,” his father said.

“He packed up all his things,” said his mother, Patricia Bye. “Anything that felt dear to him, he was bringing down here.”

“Everything he cared about, all his earthly possessions were with him on his boat,” his wife said.

Ultimately, the boat was to be sold and the money given to his adult daughter, Sydney Hein.

Mr. Bye left the East End with a friend about Oct. 28. “The weather turned terrible. It was not the right time for him to go,” his wife said. “His health was failing quickly.” His time was running out. “Michael had nothing to lose at this point,” she said.

No sooner had he left than he “immediately ran into bad weather and had to spend about two weeks in Cape May, N.J.,” his father said.

A friend was taking vacation time at work and had planned to accompany him all the way to North Carolina, where another friend would meet up with him for the final leg of the journey, but because of the two-week delay, his first travel companion had to return to work.

Mr. Bye continued on from Cape May solo, keeping in touch with his parents via text. His illness had progressed. “By the time he left New Jersey, he was nonverbal,” his father said. “He couldn’t have made a mayday call on his radio.”

“The last time we heard from him he was 75 miles north of Norfolk, Va.” When he failed to check in with them, his parents notified the Coast Guard on Nov. 21. The Coast Guard pinged his phone and “thought he was off the coast of North Carolina in a safe harbor and told us not to worry.” By the next day, the Coast Guard had determined that was not the case.

The friend who was to meet him in Belhaven, N.C., a few days after that went there as planned, just in case he was somehow able to make it to their rendezvous spot, his parents said. 

“In his condition, he could have passed out and God knows what could have happened,” his father said.

Mr. Bye grew up in Springs and East Hampton and had always loved being on the water, his father said. “We had a boat and went boating and clamming when he was a kid.”

He graduated from East Hampton High School in 1987 and entered the Navy. He served on the U.S.S. Wisconsin battleship when it was recommissioned in 1988, on the U.S.S. Iowa battleship, and the U.S.S. Josephus Daniels, a cruiser. Every time his ships were in dock for extended periods, he would go on temporary duty assignments on other Navy ships “because he loved being on the water so much,” said his father, who had also been in the Navy.

After his four years of service, Mr. Bye came home to the South Fork and worked on a series of draggers out of Montauk and Shinnecock.

Prior to his original cancer diagnosis and until his sickness kept him from sea, he had been a merchant seaman, working for about five years for Metson Marine out of Key West. 

Mr. Bye was born in Riverhead on Nov. 24, 1969, the younger of two sons born to the former Patricia Miller. Sidney Bye, who had two sons by a previous marriage, adopted him and his older brother, David, after marrying their mother.

Michael Bye, at right, served as a color guard for the East Hampton American Legion at many events, including the 2015 Hamptons Soldier Ride.  Morgan McGivern

When he was younger, he competed in arm-wrestling contests up and down the East Coast. His father had been a commander of the East Hampton American Legion post in Amagansett from 1990 to 1995 and an officer for many years after that. Michael was a member as well and had been a color guard.

“He was a small guy; he never gained any weight and was still able to get into his Navy uniform,” his father recalled.

It was at the Legion that he met Renee Belgrado, who was working in the kitchen there for a catering company. “For about six months, I didn’t pay any attention to him,” she said. His persistence won her over. “He was lively and strong and vibrant and proud of his achievements, and he had so many goals and so much life he wanted to live,” she said. “I saw that part of him and I also saw a lonely part of him and that drew me to him.”

They were married on April 21, 2012.

“The water was his first love, that’s what he always told me,” his wife said. “He always told me he was never going to die on land, he was going to die on the water.”

She described her husband as “a people pleaser” and “a genuine kind of guy.”

“He loved his family and he loved his friends, and all he wanted was to be loved,” she said.

Mr. Bye’s daughter, Sydney Hein, lives in Missouri, where her husband is stationed with the Air Force. His grandson, Silas, is 3 months old.

He is also survived by his three brothers, David Bye of Barefoot Bay, Fla., Sidney Bye III of East Hampton, and Theodore Bye of Levittown.

“He didn’t intend for it to end the way it did,” his father said. “He was looking forward to being here. . . . I’m still hoping that somehow, some way, at least the boat will show up.”

The Byes plan to hold a memorial for him next summer.

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