Search continues for missing skier

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   Rescue workers continued searching Watauga Lake on Monday for the body of a Bristol man who has been missing since a water skiing accident Sunday afternoon.
   According to officials, James Woodmancey, 37, of Bristol, had been at Watauga Lake near the Watauga Point Recreation Area with a friend preparing to water ski when the accident occurred. "He was struck by the boat and apparently went under the water," said Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Wildlife Officer Gary McWherter. "The operator (of the boat) obtained assistance from a fisherman but they were unsuccessful in locating Mr. Woodmancey."
   McWherter said the accident occurred around 5:30 p.m. on Sunday and rescue workers from the Carter County Rescue Squad along with members of local volunteer fire departments responded to the scene. Ten officers from the TWRA who had two boats also assisted.
   TWRA Wildlife Officer George Birdwell said that the TWRA is in charge of the investigation into the boating accident. "We investigate the accident but are not in charge of the recovery or search or rescue," he said. "Whether it be a rescue or a search we only assist."
   Birdwell said that Woodmancey had been wearing a life jacket at the time of the accident and that an investigation is still ongoing.
   Rescue workers braved rain and thunderstorms on Sunday in the effort to locate Woodmancey. Search efforts for the missing man began shortly after the call at 5:30 p.m. and continued through the early morning hours on Monday.
   "Recovery efforts were suspended at approximately 1:30 a.m. this morning," McWherter said on Monday. "We've been out here today since about the break of day around 6:30 a.m."
   While TWRA officials said that they do not want to presume that Woodmancey is dead, the focus of the search for the man has changed. "It's a recovery effort as opposed to a rescue as it might have been early last night."
   Several local and state agencies joined in the search. Officers from the TWRA joined members of the Carter County Rescue Squad - including the Swift Water Rescue Team - as well as members of the Kingsport Lifesaving Crew's Water Rescue Team, members of the Hampton-Valley Forge Volunteer Fire Department and a search and rescue dog team from the Bristol Tennessee Police Department.
   The Kingsport Lifesaving Crew brought in some specialized equipment to aid in the search, including a side sonar device and an underwater panning camera.
   According to officials, the portion of the lake where the man was reported missing can vary in depth from 60 feet to more than 200 feet and falls right in the main channel of the Watauga River.
   Sunday night, according to CCRS Director Terry Arnold, a diver entered the water to search for Woodmancey but was unable to locate any sign of the man.
   "Visibility was only about six feet," Arnold said.
   Use of the side sonar unit and the cadaver dog turned up some areas of interest, according to Arnold, but use of the specialized underwater camera in those areas turned up nothing.
   Arnold said that emergency crews will continue the search until Woodmancey is found.