UPDATE: Body of missing kayaker has been recovered


UPDATE (2/20/20 5:30 p.m.):

BELINGTON, W.Va. – The W.Va. Division of Natural Resources Police credits a team effort by more than 20 agencies and entities for this week’s successful recovery of the body of a kayaker from the Middle Fork River in Barbour County.

Volunteer kayakers also provided crucial assistance by lending their knowledge and expertise in coordination with the search operation, said DNR Police Capt. Stephen Antolini, its on-the-ground leader.

The body of Jamie Gray, 41, of Hacker Valley, was located Feb. 17 on a section of the Middle Fork about 1 1/2 miles from where she was last seen. She was kayaking on Feb. 9 in a group of 10 when she capsized.

In this Feb. 16 photo provided by W.Va. Division of Natural Resources Police, search personnel stage at the section of the Middle Fork River where kayaker Jamie Lynn Gray was last seen. Photo taken by retired DNR Colonel James Fields.

The kayakers found the body on the riverbank, according to a press release from Lawrence Messina, Director of Communications for the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. They and other searchers had begun combing the area downstream from Gray’s last known location after an underwater camera found no sign of her there. Given the rough terrain, DNR Police and other responding personnel reached the scene via nearby railroad tracks on UTVs and a rail truck, with the assistance of CSX Corp, said Messina.

DNR Police is thanking CSX and the other entities that helped in the operation, including the Belington VFD; Beverly VFD; Bridgeport VFD; Buckhannon VFD; Elkins VFD; Ellamore VFD; Coalton VFD; Huttonsville VFD; Jackson’s Mill VFD; Junior VFD; Nutter Fort VFD; Philippi VFD; Spelter VFD; the Barbour County Office of Emergency Management; the Barbour County Sheriff’s Department; Barbour County/Belington EMS; Marion County Department of Homeland Security & Emergency Management; Monongalia County Homeland Security Emergency Management Agency; the West Virginia Division of Forestry; and West Virginia State Police.

“I would like to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to all the members of the assisting agencies, most notably Chief Hart with Belington VFD and Chief Utt with Philippi FD who were invaluable assets in this operation,” Antolini said. “Without their experience, dedication, manpower, equipment, resources and coordination efforts, this recovery operation would not have been as effective as it was. This type of interagency cooperation and coordination is a must and these types of operations could not succeed without it.”

Antolini also praised DNR Police personnel, including Sgt. Michael Spangler for his professionalism, cooperation and organizational skills during the duration of the effort; Officer Matthew Rodriquez for keeping in close contact with the family, providing updates to them and relaying helpful information from them while mindful of their pain; and Officer Josh Prickett for his extensive knowledge of the area and for enlisting surrounding landowners to provide access and cooperation, the release stated.

“All of our officers performed without concern for their personal life which they put on hold until the successful conclusion of this recovery effort, as did everyone involved,” Antolini said. “The professionalism and dedication of all the personnel involved in this recovery effort was exemplary and all personnel should be commended.”

Hazardous conditions worsened by rain had initially limited the search and recovery efforts. Personnel re-entered the water on Feb. 16 after previously using drone flights and other means while river levels remained too high, according to the release.

UPDATE (2/17/2020 9:48 p.m.):

According to Barbour County 911 officials, the body of a missing kayaker has been recovered.

The body of kayaker Jamie Lynn Gray was located and recovered late Monday afternoon, about 1 1/2 miles downstream from where she was last seen at Middle Fork River, according to West Virginia Division of Natural Resources officials.

911 officials stated that Gray’s body was spotted at 3:45 p.m. and was recovered at 7:20 p.m.

The Department of Natural Resources is leading the investigation.

Stay with 12 News for more information.

UPDATE (2/17/2020 4:00 p.m.):

BELINGTON, W.Va. – Recovery efforts for the kayaker who presumed drowned on February 9 continued on Monday after search efforts on Sunday by West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Police and other responders yielded no results, according to DNR Police.

On Sunday, personnel aided by ropes and cables were able to re-enter the stretch of the Middle Fork below Audra State Park to search for the body of Jamie Lynn Gray for the first time since rain and weather created hazardous conditions at the scene, DNR police said.

DNR officers stated that following Sunday’s search, the rigging and roping was removed from the area to restore public access to the Middle Fork. DNR officers are asking the public to report any sightings to Barbour County 911.

There are no updates on the results of Monday’s search as of 4 p.m.

UPDATE (2/14/20 7:44 p.m.):

Until further notice, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Police is closing access to the Middle Fork River between Audra State Park in Barbour County and the Tygart Valley River.

The action is necessary as DNR Police are bringing in equipment, including ropes and cables, to assist with the recovery of the kayaker presumed drowned on Feb. 9, according to Lawrence Messina, Director of Communications for the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

DNR Police plan to resume recovery operations Sunday morning, but they are continuing to monitor water levels and conditions at the site to ensure personnel can re-enter the water safely, said Messina.

There is also new information about the incident from Feb. 9. According to Messina, Jamie Lynn Gray, 41, of Hacker Valley, was kayaking with a group of nine fellow paddlers on the Middle Fork River in Barbour County. At about 1:53 p.m., while about one half-mile below Audra State Park, Gray’s kayak capsized, and she was swept downstream. A short distance from where she capsized, Gray was swept under a large rock in the river and never resurfaced. Members of her group attempted to reach where she was last seen, but were unsuccessful, according to the release from Messina.

Barbour County 911 was notified of the incident, and agencies responding to the scene included DNR Police, West Virginia State Police, the Barbour County Sheriff’s Office, the Philippi, Belington and Junior Volunteer Fire departments, as well as additional emergency units from outside Barbour County.

The rugged terrain of the area required responding personnel to cut a path into the area. Search efforts continued for several hours until nightfall, according to the release.

DNR Police, State Police, and other personnel trained in water rescue and recovery returned to the area on Feb. 10 to continue the search. Over the course of that day, they encountered worsening weather, including heavy rains that caused the river levels to rise. Conditions in that stretch of the Middle Fork became too dangerous for rescue personnel, while shoreline searches were also conducted, said Messina.

The river level rose even more on Feb. 11. The river gauge at Audra State Park at the time of the incident on Feb. 9 measured levels at about 4 feet; it measured levels at nearly 9 feet by Tuesday afternoon, preventing any personnel from entering the water at the scene since, per the release.

The West Virginia Division of Forestry and the Marion and Monongalia County offices of Emergency Services have offered assistance, including multiple drone aircraft and pilots to search the area and downstream from where the incident occurred. Together, seven drones have conducted 18 flights over a 6-mile stretch of the river and surrounding area, according to Messina.

UPDATE (2/13/20 10:03 a.m.):

Officials have released the name of a woman who died in a kayaking incident in Barbour County that happened Sunday.

Jamie Gray, 41, was in a group of about 10 kayakers when the incident happened just downstream from Audra State Park, according to Lawrence Messina, Director of Communications for the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

Conditions continued to limit recovery efforts Wednesday, according to Messina. The water level was at about four feet on Sunday, but it was above nine feet Wednesday morning, Messina said.

It is not yet known when conditions will allow for personnel to re-enter the water to continue recovery operations, according to Messina.

DNR Police urges the public or would-be volunteers who are not part of the response to this incident to avoid the area or attempts at their own recovery or search efforts, said Messina. He added that DNR Police and the other entities involved in the response have sufficient resources as they continue to assess and monitor conditions at the scene.

UPDATE (2/10/20 2:47 p.m.):

Efforts to recover the body of a female kayaker in the Middle Fork River at Audra State Park continue to be slowed by poor weather conditions.

Right now, the Division of Natural Resources is waiting on assistance from other agencies, including fire departments, to aid in the search, according to Matthew Rodriguez, a natural resources police officer.

Ten people were kayaking together when the incident happened, said Rodriguez. They were all experienced kayakers, with two of them being swiftwater rescue certified. The certified kayakers tried to assist but were unable to rescue her, according to Rodriguez.

Emergency crews are fairly certain where the kayaker is, but the area is difficult to access, said Rodriguez.

For now, agencies on scene are waiting for rain to stop before they can get into the water, according to Rodriguez. The investigation will continue as the weather permits.

UPDATE (2/9/20 9:35 p.m.):

Barbour County 911 officials confirmed that search efforts have been suspended until Monday morning due to weather conditions.

Barbour County Communication Center has also stated that West Virginia Division of Natural Resources is taking lead on the search and investigation.

UPDATE (2/9/20 6:30 p.m.):

Belington Fire Chief Phil Hart told 12 News that a female kayaker has been under water since about 2 p.m. Sunday, and emergency crews are working to recover the body.

Barbour County 9-1-1 Communications Center has confirmed that Belington, Bridgeport, Buckhannon, Elkins, Junior, and Nutter Fort Fire Departments are all on scene as well as Barbour and Belington rescue squads.

Barbour County Sheriff’s Department , State Police, and West Virginia Division of Natural Resources are also on scene, assisting in the investigation and recovery of the woman’s body.

“At this time we just have one kayaker missing, under the water, we do not know the age. We know it’s a female, we do not know where they are from at this time but we do have personnel on the scene. The body is still in the water, under the water, we’ll be doing recovery efforts here momentarily,” said Belington Fire Chief, Phil Hart.

Rescue crews and emergency vehicles are on the scene of a reported drowning at Audra State Park that happened around 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

Barbour County 9-1-1 officials are not releasing any information at this time.

A 12 News reporter is on scene, we’ll continue coverage and provide information as we receive it.

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