Searchers recover body of missing kayaker in West Virginia

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BARBOUR COUNTY, W. Va. (WDTV/WHSV) — UPDATE (Feb. 18):

Jamie L. Gray went missing at Audra State Park on a section of the Middle Fork River, according to Lawrence Messina, Communications Director for West Virginia Division of Natural Resources/Military Affairs. (Photo: Facebook)

Authorities say the body of a West Virginia kayaker who went missing along the banks of the Middle Fork River has been found.

Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety spokesman Lawrence Messina said the body of 41-year-old Jamie Gray of Hacker Valley was found downstream Monday from where she was last seen.

Gray went missing on Feb. 9. Officials said Gray was kayaking with nine others when her kayak capsized and she was swept downstream.

The kayak then capsized again, and Gray was swept under a large rock and never resurfaced.

According to West Virginia Natural Resources Police, the rugged terrain of the area, combined with high water levels from flooding just after Gray's disappearance, made the search and recovery extremely difficult.

They say officers worked to search both the site of Gray's initial disappearance and the Middle Fork and Tygart Rivers downstream during the eight-day-long search process.

Below is their account of the process:

At the rock where she initially disappeared, underwater cameras operated on poles from around the rock were employed, and ultimately they were able to determine that she was no longer there. During that process, large winches were used to remove large logs and other debris from underneath the rock.

Downstream searches consisted of everything from boots on the ground bank searches, to riding rail trucks searching stream banks, to using drones. Once the water levels became optimal for safe kayaking, and the equipment at the rock was safely removed, the river was re-opened.

A group of kayakers coordinated their trip with Natural Resources Police and formulated a plan on how to contact Officers if they located anything, given the remote location. This ultimately led to the discovery of Mrs. Gray’s lifejacket, and her body was then located a little further downstream.

It appears that Mrs. Gray’s body had flushed from the rock during the high water that occurred midweek, and she was located about a mile and a half from the point of her disappearance.

Once again, the Natural Resources Police involved in this incident want to thank the community, the avid kayakers, the volunteers, and the numerous agencies that all came together to help during this difficult time. We would also like to express our sincerest condolences to Mrs. Gray’s family.

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UPDATE 02/16/2020 1 p.m.

This account is according to Captain Stephen Antolini, of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Police District.

"Starting at 7 a.m., a record number of approximately 60 officials from nearby areas such as Bridgeport, Elkins, and Philippi convened at the pavilion command center at Audra State Park.

Today, the officials are going back to the first area where Jamie Lynn Gray was last seen, according to the kayakers who accompanied her.

The water is more shallow today, about 4 ft. deep as opposed to 9, as the rain stopped. Officials will go in the water today and put ropes across the river.

Civilians are unallowed in the search party."

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UPDATE 02/15/2020 11:15 a.m.

Until further notice, the W.Va. 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 DNR Police are bringing in equipment including ropes and cables to assist with the recovery of the kayaker presumed drowned on Feb. 9.

DNR Police hope to resume recovery operations Sunday morning, but continue to monitor water levels and conditions at the site to ensure personnel can re-enter the water safely.

Jamie Lynn Gray, 41, of Hacker Valley, W.Va, was kayaking with a group of 9 fellow paddlers on the Middle Fork River in Barbour County on Sunday, Feb 9. Around 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.

Barbour County 911 was notified, and agencies responding to the scene included DNR Police, W.Va. State Police, 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.

DNR Police, State Police, and other personnel trained in water rescue and recovery returned to the area on Monday, 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 conditions for rescue personnel, while shoreline searches were also conducted.

The river level rose even further on Tuesday, Feb. 11. The river gauge at Audra State Park at the time of the incident Feb. 9 measured levels at around 4 feet. It measured levels at nearly 9 feet by Tuesday afternoon, preventing personnel from entering the water at the scene since.

The W.Va. 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.

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UPDATE 02/14/2020

DNR police close several access points to Middle Fork River in preparation for plans to resume their search Sunday.

UPDATE 02/13/2020 @ 9:22 a.m.
We now know the name of the kayaker who went missing Sunday in Barbour County.

Jamie L. Gray went missing at Audra State Park on a section of the Middle Fork River, according to Lawrence Messina, Communications Director for West Virginia Division of Natural Resources/Military Affairs.

Recovery efforts from Search and Rescue crews are still delayed as water levels are still high.

Stay with 5 News as we keep you connected on this developing story.

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ORIGINAL STORY

The search and rescue mission for a missing kayaker at Audra State Park was temporarily halted just after 1 p.m. Monday.

West Virginia Division of Natural Resources officials said they believe they know where the body of the woman is.

"We know that she is in a certain spot down [the Middle Fork River]. Because of the way that the water has risen, and we are predicting it to rise, we are waiting for the rain to stop," said Matthew Rodriguez, the investigating officer from the Department of Natural Resources.

Officials believe the body was likely caught underwater by a boulder.

The search will continue when the water level drops back down.

"We will continue as the weather permits. Once the water levels lower, then we will get back out there and see if we can get her," said Rodriguez.

The victim is still not identified, but some in her kayak group of ten were trained in water recovery.

"In the ten that we know of, there was a few swift water rescue. They were certified in that. They did everything that they could to get her out of there," said Rodriguez.

According to Belington fire department, the woman fell into the river after a kayaking accident Sunday.

UPDATE: 02/09/2020
According to a press release from the West Virginia Natural Resources Police, West Virginia State Police, and the Barbour County Sheriff's Department fire and rescue crews responded to a report of a kayaker who was swept under a rock and never surfaced on a remote section of the Middle Fork River in Barbour County.

The incident happened around 1:00 p.m. on February 9th.

Crews made it to the scene but couldn't locate the kayaker.

Darkness, the remote location, and water levels made recovery efforts difficult.

The search will resume tomorrow with Natural Resources Police conducting the investigation.

ORIGINAL STORY: 02/09/2020

According to Barbour County 9-1-1 multiple crews are responding to an incident at Audra State Park in Buckhannon.

According to Belington fire department one woman fell into the river after a kayaking accident.

She was with a group of 10 people.

Crews have not yet located her.

5 News has a reporter at the scene. Stick with us for any updates.