The bodies of two men who went missing after the boat they were riding on collided with another vessel following a fireworks show Thursday night were retrieved from Lake Jordan Saturday afternoon.
The Alexander City and Tallapoosa County Rescue Squad found both bodies, according to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and Ken Cowart of the rescue squad, which used its sophisticated Kongsberg sonar to locate the missing men.
Lt. Mark Fuller of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s Marine Patrol said the body of Clay Jackson, 26, of Deatsville was recovered at 12:45 p.m. within sight of Lake Jordan Marina around Sears Slough, an area that had been searched for two days.
Almost four hours later, the body of Travis House, 17, of Marbury was found within 50 yards of where Jackson’s body was retrieved, Fuller said.
“That sonar unit Alex City has is one of only two in the state and it’s invaluable,” Fuller said as the numerous agencies that helped in the search since early Friday morning packed up. “It’s our job to find them and the sooner after the accident we can locate the victims, everybody is better off.”
Fuller said Jackson’s body was found near the surface of the lake and House’s body was located farther down in the water, which is 30 to 70 feet deep in the area where the men were retrieved.
Jackson and House were on a 19-foot Sea Hunt center console boat with four others being driven by Caleb Peters when a collision occurred with a 19-foot Maxum runabout driven by Damion Bruno between 9:30 and 10 p.m. Thursday near the mouth of Weoka Creek, according to Capt. Gary Buchanan of the ALEA’s Marine Patrol.
The site of the collision is about a half mile from Lake Jordan Marina and not far from Gov. Kay Ivey’s cabin.
Buchanan said both bodies were taken to the Elmore County coroner for autopsies and added an investigation into the cause of the accident would begin in earnest Monday. He declined comment on the possibility of criminal charges being filed.
“The investigation will take some time,” Fuller said.
The families of the missing men returned to the site Saturday and watched as sonar and dive crews resumed their methodical search after a fruitless Friday was hampered by suffocating heat, numerous trees, stumps and roots on the lake’s bottom and deep water. When both men were found Saturday, family members gathered under tents to hear the news delivered by officials, hugged, cried and prayed.
Cowart said the Alexander City and Tallapoosa County Rescue Squad directed divers to numerous targets in the broiling lake for 12 hours Friday and another 10 hours Saturday before finding both men.
“The heat gets you,” Cowart said. “We were out there in an aluminum frying pan. … You can’t see but about a foot in front of you (in the water). There are lots of trees, stumps and roots. You see something that looks like it might be two legs or something that looks like a body, you can’t tell unless you can put your hands on it and then it turns out to be a root. … But I’m glad we got closure for the families. It’s hard for them and the Lord will help them through it.”
Buchanan said there was no hope of survival for the two men who went into the onyx water of the lake in darkness and a search along the shore in the area of Weoka Creek found nothing Thursday night and early Friday morning.
“We did a really thorough search of the bank (Thursday night) on the possibility somebody may have swam to shore,” Buchanan said. “Some of my guys didn’t get home until 6 (Friday morning).”
Buchanan said in the aftermath of the collision two people were taken by helicopter and ambulance to Baptist South Hospital in Montgomery and three others sustained minor injuries.
In addition to the Alexander City and Tallapoosa County Rescue Squad and the ALEA, the Montgomery Fire Department, Region 4 Homeland Security, Elmore County Emergency Management Agency, Elmore County Sheriff’s Office and the Holtville and Titus volunteer fire departments also assisted the search.
“Everybody worked very well together,” Fuller said. “Everybody performed their job flawlessly.”
Buchanan said the collision came after an Independence Day fireworks display at Jordan Dam. Hundreds of boats gathered northwest of the dam and the crash occurred as many vessels were heading back toward Lake Jordan Marina.
Buchanan said there was a lot of traffic on the water Thursday.
“It’s been probably one of the busiest Fourth of Julys in the last six to eight years and it has a lot to do with the good weather and falling on a Thursday,” Buchanan said.