Newly acquired sonar equipment helped divers with the Columbus Department of Fire & Emergency Medical Services locate a fisherman after he disappeared about a quarter-mile south of the dam at Lake Oliver on Thursday.
The body of the 45-year-old man was recovered in about 20 feet of water shortly before 5 p.m. and was pronounced dead at 5:15 p.m., said Muscogee County Deputy Coroner Charles Newton. No decision has been made on whether his body will be transported to the crime lab in Decatur for an autopsy.
The victim, described as Hispanic, wasn’t named because his relatives haven’t been notified. He was fishing with two other friends before he disappeared about 2:30 p.m. while taking a swim in the Chattahoochee River.
Battalion Chief Keith Watson said about 15 rescue personnel were on the scene, including four divers, when two divers in the water found the body using the sonar. It was the first time the equipment was used after the rescue squad trained with it on Wednesday.
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“We were lucky to have witnesses down there,” Watson said. “We tried to get the witnesses to stay on the scene. They pretty much stayed over there to help us find him.”
The divers had been in the water about 90 minutes before the body was picked up on a bottom scan on the river. “It’s like a sonar you would use on your fishing boat,” he said.
To reach the area, rescue personnel traveled up the Chattahoochee Riverwalk to the two fishermen who were in the boat. One angler tried to reach the man before he apparently drowned.
Public safety vehicles were staged at the North Columbus Water Resource Facility at Lake Oliver after the body was recovered.
The rescue squad was aided by a calm river during the recovery. Watson said that part of the river usually has a swift current . “It’s very unusual for it to be calm,” he said. “I guess when they saw how calm it was, they decided to swim. Usually you can’t swim there because the current is so strong. We called Georgia Power and they kept it calm while we had divers in the water. “
It was the second search by the rescue squad since Tuesday. A man was cited for not having a life vest after rescue personnel were called to Chattahoochee River beneath the 13th Street Bridge. The man was rescued safely and turned over to Columbus police about 8:55 p.m. The man became stranded on the rocks after Georgia Power started generating late in the evening and the water quickly rose before he recognized it.
Watson stressed the need to wear a life vest when on the river. “I’ve been in this department a long time,” he said. “I’ve pulled a lot out of the river but I never pulled one out with a life jacket.”
If you are on the river, Watson said children especially should wear a life jacket. “Make sure they have life jackets on,” Watson said. “It only takes a minute to fall into that swift water.”