Meridian Star

January 23, 2013

Technology and lower water key to search

By Brian Livingston / blivingston@themeridianstar.com
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     Crews looking for the body of a man who is believed to have drowned Saturday in the Chunky River are hopeful the water levels continue to fall and that the arrival of technical systems will give them an edge.

    David Sharp, executive director of the Lauderdale County Emergency Management Agency in Meridian, said some areas that crews thought might yield the body of 56-year-old Marcus L. Smith have now been ruled out after personnel did sonar and underwater camera sweeps Tuesday.

    "We didn't find him today but the area we believe he may be is steadily shrinking so we are confident, despite still not having found him," Sharp said. "The water levels need to continue to fall and we need to continue to be determined to find him so the family can have some closure."

    Sharp said crews were able to get the underwater camera into two areas despite the water still being fairly swift. He said sonar has ruled out other areas.

    Sharp said at the beginning of the search process late Saturday and into Sunday that the water levels were nine feet higher than normal. He said by Tuesday afternoon the levels are half that. Sharp said just the water receding to close to its normal levels of two feet will tighten the area in which crews need to search.

    "We think he is still in our search area," Sharp said. "Or more importantly, we don't have any reason yet to believe he is anywhere else so we will keep looking here until we have exhausted all the possibilities."

    Sharp said search crews would regroup Tuesday evening, talk about the day's progress, and then make out a search plan for today.

    Smith was in a canoe with two other men Saturday when it turned over into the swift, cold waters of the Chunky River near Stuckey Bridge. The two survivors were able to reach the bank but Smith was swept downriver the survivors told authorities. Sharp said searchers recovered the canoe and other items that were in the canoe. The items were scattered among fallen trees and other debris along the river banks.

    Sharp said volunteer firefighters, LEMA and Newton County Emergency Management Agency personnel, and officers with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks continue to search for any sign of the victim on both sides of the river as the water levels fall.