Sonar Locates Drowning Victim

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With the help of sonar technology, divers recovered the body of Frederick Barker from the bottom of Waitts Lake on May 2.

Barker, a 48-year-old from Spokane, drowned on April 28 after reportedly jumping into the cold water without a life vest to retrieve his brand new fishing rod. He never resurfaced even though his wife and the other person in the boat tossed life preservers toward him. The incident happened around 6:15 a.m. on the opening day of fishing season.

After searching all day April 28 and April 29, the Stevens County Sheriff’s Department suspended their search for Barker’s body because Sheriff Kendle Allen said they were not producing any results. Corporal Jeff Welton, a diver from the Spokane County Emergency Operations Team, said there was no visibility once they neared the lake floor. It was a blackout situation, he said, and 18-24 inches of silt clouded everything when disturbed.

However, officials were able to locate the body within 45 minutes of resuming their search on May 2 by using the sonar-equipped boat from Kootenai County.

The sonar uses sound waves to map the bottom of the lake and display images from underwater; then markers are dropped for the divers. They located the body on the second pass of the search area, more than 80-100 yards farther out than originally suspected. Allen said the witnesses gave them the right angle, but it is difficult to tell a location in the water without GPS coordinates or a clear reference point.

It took another hour and half to mark the location and bring the body to the surface from a depth of 45 feet. Welton helped retrieve it with three volunteer divers from the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office. He said the body was almost entirely buried in the silt when they reached it.

The victim was found wearing what witnesses had described to Stevens County deputies: a hooded sweatshirt and Carhaart work pants. He is expected to have died of shock from the cold water.

Allen said the water temperature drops quickly the deeper one gets, and heavy clothing gets heavier. As all the blood rushes to the core of the body to keep vital organs warm, it will limit the mobility of the arms and legs.

Allen said this incident could have been avoided with a life vest and encourages everyone to wear a flotation device when fishing.

By Kellie Trudeau

The Independent Staff

In this photo: Stevens County Sheriff Kendle Allen helps the crew of the Kootenai County sonar boat that retrieved the body of Frederick Barker from Waitts Lake on May 2.