The search for the body of former Dalkeith fire chief William “Bill” Davis, Jr., drowned in the waters near Battle Bend, in the Apalachicola River, came to an end Tuesday afternoon.
Sheriff Mike Harrison said that in the process of sending down an underwater camera, about 30 feet below the surface, at about 1 p.m. Davis’ body “naturally surfaced at the same spot he was witnessed going down at.
“While monitoring and moving it around, his body surfaced,” said Harrison who, in coordination with the Wewahitchka search-and-rescue team, had mobilized a 15-day search that brought in a dutiful flotilla of volunteers, and the assistance of side sonar and cadaver dogs.
“Everybody prepares for it,” said the sheriff. “It’s rough on the folks, on the folks out there looking for so long. We’re all glad the search is over. It gets closure to the family.
“We have a lot to be thankful for, a great search and rescue, a community that came together, that spent thousands of hours out there over the last 15 days,” he said. “We’re thankful for the help.”
On Monday afternoon, Jan. 4 Davis, 76, and wife Lois had traveled out on the water to their houseboat, moored north of Battle Bend, near the confluence of the Chipola and Apalachicola rivers.
After diving in to retrieve their boat as it drifted away, Davis had been unable to climb on to it, and slipped beneath the surface.
Had it been a spring or a summer month, and the water warmer than its 56 degrees, the rescue operation, which soon turned to a recovery effort, would likely have ended sooner, perhaps as briefly as a couple of days.
A soft tangled web of wood in the depths, and swift flowing current, precluded the use of divers.
“It’s extremely loggy on the bottom, that didn’t help matters. There’s a lot of trees on the river bottom,” said Don Minchew, president of Wewahitchka search and rescue, a group that Davis, in his role as Dalkeith volunteer fire chief, was a charter member when the group was founded in 1996.
Minchew on Monday said the group’s response was up to about two dozen boats a day, challenged by the coronavirus situation.
“A lot of our people take off of work, and they have to go back to work,” he said. “People I normally depend on are either quarantined or have COVID. It’s a crippling experience.”
Dogs trained in detecting the scent of a body, even while on patrol on boats sniffing the waters, were a regular sight. These dogs, certified by NASAR, the National Search and Rescue Association were mostly herding-type dogs, Minchew said.
“We’ve seen them anywhere from a terrier-type dog up to a rottweiler, predominantly terriers, labs, Australian sheepdogs,” he said.
“We’ve been relying on them,” Minchew said. “They let us know to keep that search in tight.
“We just ran the cadaver dogs,” he said Monday afternoon. “We still feel like he’s in the same area he drowned in.”
Boats, which was assisted by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission vessels, were dispatched downriver as far as Apalachicola, in case the current altered the underwater dynamics.
Harrison said Davis’ body is being transferred to the medical examiner’s office for an autopsy.
David’s wife Lois said Tuesday afternoon that arrangements are pending.
“I lost my best friend,” she said.
The couple, married 57 years and lifelong residents of the area, save for three-and-a-half away while Davis was in the Army, have two sons and two daughters, one of whom preceded her father in death some years back.
Davis’ wife said her husband would have joined in the search were he a searcher in such a mission, as he many times had been.
“Yes, he would have jumped,” Lois Davis said. “He was very dedicated to the fire department and the search and rescue. He was dedicated to his work, there wasn’t nothing lazy about him.”
Two weeks of waiting has buckled down her shock and grief.
“I’m doing pretty good; I have my moments,” she said. “There’s a lot of memories in 57 years.”
This article originally appeared on The Star: Search ends for Dalkeith fire chief