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Kayaker remains missing Monday as active search efforts are halted

Searchers were unable to locate a missing kayaker on the Middle Fork River during a limited search and rescue operation on Monday.

Lt. Brad McDougal with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources told My Buckhannon that DNR officers had been searching the banks of the river but suspended operations due to water and weather conditions.

 “We’ve been there most of the day,” McDougal said. “Due to the water conditions we are not actively searching at this moment in time. At this point, it’s too dangerous to put anyone in the water.”

McDougal said the DNR would reassess the conditions at the break of day on Tuesday.

Phil Hart, the chief of the Belington Volunteer Fire Department, said fire department personnel were not actively searching for the kayaker Monday due to the weather.

“As of right now, there are no active search efforts by any fire department personnel due to the unfavorable weather conditions and the river level,” Hart told My Buckhannon on Monday afternoon. “We will be watching the weather and the water conditions to see when they are more favorable.”

The female was first reported missing just after 2 p.m. Sunday by members of her kayaking group, who told Barbour County emergency dispatchers that her boat flipped over and she went under water about an hour earlier. The experienced group of kayakers were boating down river from Audra State Park, toward where the Middle Fork meets the Tygart River.

“There was a group 10 kayaking, and one of the kayaks overturned and washed under a rock,” Hart said. “The kayak came out from under the rock, but the person has not been accounted for.” 

It took first responders about two hours to reach the area where the kayaker went under water, according to radio traffic. Her kayak was found about half a mile down river from that location.

Hart said the site where the kayaker was last seen Sunday afternoon was difficult to reach and firefighters had to use chainsaws to cut a path several hundred yards long.

“Getting access into there was very difficult, because it was very, very remote,” Hart said.

The Buckhannon Fire Department sent six volunteers to assist at about 4:30 p.m. Sunday. They joined search and rescue crews from across central West Virginia who looked for the missing kayaker until after dark Sunday, calling off the search at about 10 p.m.

According to U.S. Geological Survey data, the river gauge at Audra registered 4.3 feet Sunday afternoon. While that is higher than average, it is within the American Whitewater recommended flow range of 3.2-6.0 feet for that section of the Middle Fork River, which includes Class III and IV rapids, or intermediate to advanced.

The river level dropped to about 4.1 feet overnight but started to tick up Monday as additional rain moved through the area. Rain or snow are forecast for central West Virginia through Friday.

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