Search crews combed J. Strom Thurmond Lake, at the West Dam Recreational Area, doing everything they could to find Christopher Harper. On day three, the search area was still contained to where witnesses last saw him.
Mark Padgett is hoping side scan sonar helps bring closure to the family.
“It’s been a wonderful tool since we acquired it several years ago and been able to bring some closer to some folks pretty fast,” said Padgett, with the Department of Natural Resources.
Harper, a 43-year-old husband and father from Columbia County fell off his jet ski Monday. Padgett told News Channel 6 Harper was not wearing a life jacket. Witnesses said they saw him fighting for his life.
“[He] Went under the water. They heard him come up and gulp and cough a little bit like he make have taken on some water. He was not seen again. He went back down and he did not resurface,” Padgett explained based on statements from the witnesses who were swimming during the time of the incident.
Padgett said that news means Harper is still underwater. On day three of the search, a helicopter, divers and sonar search were all used to find him.
As the Memorial Day holiday weekend approaches, Padgett said the lake should be busy. So, he said the search will narrow down to just a few hours.
“It could be a little dangerous to have boats here and possibly divers. We’ll do some search scans on the water during the day. We’ll have somebody assigned to this area that will be close by,” he described.
While people visiting the lake this weekend may not be directly told about the search, Padgett said it could come up in conversation. Those who are enjoying the area now are already aware of what is going on.
“We saw the boats go by and we realized what’s going on. We came out here to have fun, do a little fishing and grilling,” said Evans resident Jordan Riveria, who was enjoying the lake with friends.
Some groups, like the one Riveria came with, are taking precaution.
Hephzibah resident Carnell Wright said they always use life vests.
“For him to be out there on a personal water craft, safety is number one. Water is unforgiving,” he said.
Riveria added, “There are usually circumstances that you have to accept going out on the water, maybe if you’re alone or not, but that doesn’t really affect us I guess.”
The search will pick back up Thursday morning with sonar and divers both looking for Harper. There are no concerns at this point about not locating him before the holiday. Padgett said his only concern is that they find him.