AUDRA STATE PARK — Heavy rains suspended search efforts Monday, for a kayaker reported missing near Audra State Park around 1 p.m. on Sunday, February 9. Authorities have released the identity as Jamie L. Gray, 41.
Gray was reportedly with a group of 10 other experienced kayakers on the Middle Fork River in Barbour County. Gray was reported to have been swept under a rock and never resurfaced. Though search efforts in the water were temporarily suspended, authorities say they will continue to check the riverbanks for her.
According to the Barbour County 911 Communications Center supervisor, Belington, Junior, Philippi, Bridgeport, Nutter Fort, Elkins and Buckhannon Fire Departments all responded, along with the Belington and Barbour County emergency squads. West Virginia State Police, the Barbour County Sheriff’s Office and the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources were also on scene assisting in the investigation and attempted recovery of the woman’s body.
Some crews were initially on-scene for at least five hours. A Harrison/Taylor 911 supervisor reported Nutter Fort and Bridgeport emergency units responded to a drowning investigation at 2:11 p.m. and remained throughout the day.
Officials on site reportedly believe they know where the body is located; however, recovery efforts are complicated because that stretch of river is rocky and hard to reach. Those difficulties were also compounded by heavy rainfall and high water throughout the week. Recovery efforts were paused on Monday, until the rainy weather subsides, and water levels drop. Officials believe the body was likely caught underwater by a boulder.
Matthew Rodriguez, the investigating officer from the Department of Natural Resources, stated Monday, “We know that she is in a certain spot down [the Middle Fork River]. Ten people were kayaking together when the incident happened,” said Rodriguez. They were all reportedly experienced kayakers and at least two of them were certified in Swiftwater Rescue. According to Rodriguez, the certified kayakers tried to assist, but were unable to rescue her. “They did everything that they could to get her out of there,” Rodriguez said.
“The weather in the area and the resulting conditions at the scene continued to prevent searchers from entering the water. For some perspective: the water level was four feet on Sunday; this morning, it was above nine feet,” said Lawrence Messina, Director of Communications and Public Relations for the Department of Natural Resources. “DNR Police coordinated multiple drone flights over the area throughout the day, but without any sightings… As has been the approach since Sunday, DNR Police will assess conditions in the morning and proceed accordingly.”