Bad river conditions frustrate crews looking for missing boater

By Stefano DiPietrantonio – bio |email

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Terrible conditions on the river are frustrating emergency crews who are hoping to locate the body of a missing Indiana man.

The search has gone from a rescue to a recovery effort and with the river still rising, it could be days before there are any answers.

Two men escaped a tow-boat alive that took on water fast Sunday. But for their co-worker, 37-year-old Christopher McAllister of Vevay, Ind., his family has an agonizing wait ahead.

Conditions on the water are getting worse for everyone on the river.

Trees can be seen racing downstream. One large tree just missed sideswiping the Anderson Ferry.

"The river's rising, the conditions are worse, they're worsening by the hour, which hampers our efforts drastically, it's really changes what we can and can't do," said Sergeant Charles Phillips, a Supervisor with Kentucky Fish & Wildlife.

And what they cannot do is put any divers in the dangerous, murky water.

"We see trees," said Mike Fronimos, Public Information Officer with the Hebron Fire Department. "Full trees going by on the surface, we can only imagine what's underneath the water, so trying to put a diver down there is just too dangerous and water rescue crews are not going to do that."

The U.S. Coast Guard has shut-down part of the river between mile marker 478 and 482 and given the swiftness of the river right now and the amount of junk that's floating around it is anyone's guess when they can get serious about a salvage operation.

"And they did see the tow boat down on the bottom and it's slightly tilted and they could see the starboard side," said Fronimos. "So it is somewhat sitting upright."

Hebron Water-Rescue located the sunken vessel using sonar, 150 feet off shore and in 51 feet of water, between Anderson Ferry and Taylorsport.

"When you see these trees out there coming at you at seven miles an hour and you're going upstream so maybe you're hitting it a ten miles an hour, it doesn't sound like that much, but when it can knock you off your boat, knock you at least off your feet, it gives you a new respect out there, because that river out there is unforgiving," Fronimos said.

You could see how unforgiving the current was, watching it fights the Anderson Ferry.

"Also just the velocity with the impact, could knock somebody over board, it could knock a vessel, maybe tip it over maybe where it would take on water," Fronimos said.

Tug boats and similar vessels can carry up to 500 gallons of diesel fuel.

"There is diesel fuel leaking from the tow boat however with the current, moving that fast, it's diluting it as it leaks," Fronimos said.

"Normally we would put booms out there to absorb the diesel fuel but there's no way we could put any type of booms out there, because the debris coming through is just gonna rip it apart," he said.

The Boone County Sheriff's deputies did interview both of the men who survived the incident - Mike Lemker of Fort Mitchell, Ky. and Steven McKinley of Sunman, Ind. They have been treated for hypothermia.

But the U.S. Coast Guard, who is handling this investigation now, is not releasing what they've said just yet.

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