Sunday, May 14, 2017

Fatal accident occurred May 04, 2017 in Weott, Humboldt County, California

Body of pilot recovered from Eel River on Sunday

Press release from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office:

On May 4th at approximately 2pm a search and rescue effort was initiated in the McCann area east of Weott for the pilot of an ultra-light aircraft that had crashed into the main fork of the Eel River. Family members and friends of the Pilot, 61 year old Rex Whitlow, responded to the crash site moments after the crash occurred to find the air craft upside down in the river. The pilot could not be found.

Cal Fire, members of the Southern Humboldt Technical Rescue Team, and members of the Fruitland Ridge Volunteer Fire Department also responded to assist in the search. Members of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team later arrived and assisted in the search with their river rescue boat. A U.S. Coast Guard Helicopter also responded and assisted in the search for the missing pilot. The initial search lasted until dark and did not result in locating the pilot. Search efforts resumed the next morning and continued throughout the day; however search teams were still unable to locate the missing pilot.

Search efforts resumed over the next several days for the pilot who was presumed to be underwater. At one point cadaver search dogs were utilized in the search. The dogs were of assistance however were still unable to determine the exact location of the pilot. Search efforts were hindered by swift and murky water, and by high winds.

On Sunday May 14th at approximately 2pm, family friends who were still searching the area finally located the body of Pilot Rex Whitlow in a shallow area of the river nearly three miles from the original crash scene.

The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office would like to give special thanks to the friends and family of Rex Whitlow who were extremely diligent and persistent in their search efforts. The community is deeply saddened by the loss of lifelong McCann resident, Rex Witlow.

Anyone with information for the Sheriff’s Office regarding this case or related criminal activity is encouraged to call the Sheriff’s Office at 707-445-7251 or the Sheriff’s Office Crime Tip line at 707-268-2539.
  In the foreground, the ultralight that crashed sits on the beach while a boat searching for its pilot zips past on the river. [Image provided by Southern Humboldt County Technical Rescue]

Peggy, the cadaver dog handler, and one of her dogs on the river searching for the missing pilot yesterday. [Photo provided by the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and the Southern Humboldt County Technical Rescue Team]

As evening settled last night, boatloads of the family and friends of missing pilot, Rex Whitlow, were again dragging the river looking for their loved one. Whitlow, went missing May 4 when the Ultralight plane he was piloting crashed near the main stem of the Eel River east of Weott. The close-knit family and their community of friends will continue looking today, Mother’s Day, the 11th day since the crash.

Yesterday, the family was joined by members of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and the Southern Humboldt County Technical Rescue Team (SHCTRT).

“Dragging for the body is tedious and heart-wrenching,” Diana Totten, a volunteer with SHCTRT explained.

She described what happened during the search on Saturday for us:

[S]ince the small plane crash into the river near MaCann on May 4th, private and agency search teams have been searching the waters near the plane crash site as well as several miles downstream…[Yesterday] we were able to get search dogs from Del Norte County…These dogs are specially trained cadaver dogs that can work water search.

We started with one dog on the sheriff boat with his handler….drifting slowly from the crash site downstream, at a certain area about a mile from the crash site the dog was alerting. This alert was [on] an area of about 1/4 mile…[The handler and dog were] unable to get a smaller area narrowed down.We went to the camp and got the second dog and tried the same drift and at the same general area the second dog alerted.

This gave hope to searchers as to have a general location…The water is about 10-12 feet deep at this stretch of the river.

Totten said that a diver with tanks, a friend of the Whitlow’s, went into the river there but she said, “[W]ith the swiftness and murky water, it was impossible to see more than 12inches.” Eventually, Totten said the team had to leave. But she explained that the search is still considered to be ongoing and will continue. At this point, the Sheriff’s Department and SHCTRT is looking for clearer water. The murky water from the snow melt and wet spring weather has impeded their search.

“[O]ur hope is for clear water with a little more visibility,” Totten said. “[O]ur hearts go out to the family and we will be going back as conditions dictate.”

Meanwhile, the family keeps searching for Rex.

Original article can be found here:

Earlier Chapters:
UltraLight Plane Crashes in Eel Near McCann; Rescuers Search for Local Pilot
Searchers for Missing Pilot Vow to Work Until Dark Though Heat and Wind Are Taking Their Toll
Rescue Team Member Lost Wallet Searching for Downed Pilot
Search Teams Continue Looking for Missing Pilot
Search for Missing Pilot Postponed.

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