More searching fails to find body of Tampa Rafter

Posted: June 24, 2013 by kirisyko in Kayaking, Water
Tags: , , , , , , ,

downloadTAMPA — After more than six hours, a recovery crew called off search efforts late Sunday for the body of a Tampa man who died during a white-water rafting trip last week in South Carolina.

The search effort was expected to resume Monday.

A recovery crew including a dive team and dozens of first responders has been scouring the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River for the body of Thomas P. Hill since Wednesday when the 50-year-old fell off a raft about 100 miles west of Greenville near the Georgia state line, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

“We searched several parts of the river today with a dive team, side-scan sonar and an underwater camera without finding Mr. Hill’s body,” incident commander Keith Wilbanks said in a statement. “As a result, we’ve been able to rule those areas out.”

It is believed Hill was caught by rocks under the water and drowned after his raft encountered rough water. Several rafters, including Hill and the boat’s guide, were thrown overboard. All surfaced except for Hill.

Search crews spotted Hill’s body late Thursday, but water levels were too high to recover it, according to a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman. River currents moved the body Friday and crews were unable to find it.

Hill, a sales manager for Sherwin-Williams and a father of four, had been rafting on a company retreat.

Eighteen trained responders from five counties continued the search Sunday. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources provided air support. Six commercial river guides and the U.S. Forest Service pitched in as well. Including the efforts on Sunday, 216 personnel have been involved in recovery operations.

“We’re dedicated to this effort to find and recover Mr. Hill’s body and return him to his family,” Wilbanks said in the statement.

The river remains open to commercial and private boaters.

Until last week, drowning deaths on the Chattooga were infrequent. A 58-year-old Nashville, Tenn., man died a year ago, and it came nine years after the previous drowning on the river, Forest Service officials said.

Southeastern Guides, the whitewater operator for Hill’s trip, has seemingly been cleared of wrongdoing and is assisting in the recovery.

“As far as we know they were operating within safety guidelines,” U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Michelle Burnett said Sunday.

“There were seven on the raft,” she said. “They went through a rapid and some fell off the raft, including the guide. They all resurfaced except for Mr. Hill.”

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