NEWBURGH, Ind.–For 11 days Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources conservation officers have been searching for Stephen Burks. His family waits and watches on the banks of the Ohio River, near where he went missing on the Indiana side, Sept. 9.
But, the search has been difficult because of some unusual conditions on the river. The officers haven’t been able to use sonar. The family knows he will not likely be found alive. But, an 11-day search for a drowning victim is unusual.
“Seven days of the river rising, a large amount of debris, plus current-the only thing that could’ve gone worse is if this had happened in January,” said Lt. Duane Englert, with the DNR’s Law Enforcement division. He said Burks, 43, of Owensboro, Kentucky, went under with his boat near a dam.
“When they were fishing up near the Newburgh dam, evidently his boat wouldn’t start in time for them to move out of the current, due to what we think was a dead battery,” said Englert. The boat was pulled in and under. “It started drifting into what we call the gates or the boil. It basically sunk the boat.”
The man who was fishing with Burks was able to pull himself out and reach the dam wall.
Englert said the sonar they usually use in that situation is not ideal.
“Some places next to the dam are up to 100 feet deep and the sonar we use when identifying drowning victims is preferably better when it’s less than 50 feet deep.”
Several days after the search started, so did a lot of rain, coming from a tropical system that made most rivers rise in Indiana.
“The debris that was coming down the river for seven days straight was almost non-stop,” said Englert. “You couldn’t even imagine how much debris was coming down that river.”
That debris was also an obstruction to another kind of sonar they had planned to use.
Englert said the river has gone back down and is now within its banks again. They plan to resume the search by boat, possibly use sonar, and are also waiting on an autopsy for a body that was found Tuesday afternoon on the Kentucky side, near Paducah.
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