The search for a missing boater is entering its 13th day at Smith Lake.
The volunteers, both local and from other areas, have joined with the Cullman County and Winston County sheriffs’ offices and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) in the search. Sonar equipment, aerial spotters and divers and cadaver dogs have all been on the scene, fighting inclement weather as well as the unique and rugged elements beneath the surface of Smith Lake.
Those efforts will continue, but the difficulties the searchers are encountering and unique because of how the lake was created.
Alabama Power’s cleared many trees in areas where the water would be less than 60 feet. But other areas, where the water would be much deeper because of the contour of the land, the trees were left. Some of the trees are 40 to 60-feet tall and covered by two and three times deeper than their height.
The missing woman, Kelsey Starling, 26, of Birmingham, was on a Mastercraft vessel that collided with a pontoon boat on the night of July 4. Several others were injured and made it to shore, but she has been unaccounted for since that night in the lake’s Rock Creek area.
The use of sonar has been valuable, but with the trees and depths, even that is difficult.
ALEA Marine Patrol officials have reported numerous accidents on Alabama waterways this summer. The day after Starling another accident occurred on Smith Lake that claimed the life of a 12-year-old. Over the weekend on Lake Wedowee, a father and daughter collided on personal watercraft vessels, killing him and leaving his daughter with an amputated leg.
The waterways are crowded in the summer. Without following the rules of boating, traveling in the right side lanes, wearing life jackets and avoiding alcohol when operating a vessel, the risk or injuries and deaths are high.
Searches like the one at Smith Lake are extremely difficult, but we appreciate the dedication and skill of everyone involved who are working daily to bring closure to a tragedy.