Search continues for missing skier

By Abby Morris
Star Staff

   One week after a Bristol man went missing in Watauga Lake, rescue workers continued searching for his body on Friday with the use of sonar equipment and boats.
   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 stated that the accident occurred around 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 16, and rescue workers from the Carter County Rescue Squad and volunteers from local volunteer fire departments responded to the scene along with 10 officers from the TWRA who responded with two boats.
   TWRA Wildlife Officer George Birdwell stated 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 the investigation into the boating accident was still ongoing. "At this point we are treating it as an accident but it is an open and ongoing investigation," he said.
   So far, emergency personnel have been able to recover a part of Woodmancey's life jacket and one of the water skis he was using, according to reports. Rescue workers braved rain and thunderstorms on the day Woodmancey disappeared in the effort to locate him. Search efforts for the missing man began shortly after the call at 5:30 p.m. and continued on until the early morning hours on May 17.
   TWRA officials stated on May 17 that while 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," McWherter said.
   Several local and state agencies have assisted in the search for the missing man. 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 for Woodmancey, including a side sonar device and an underwater panning camera to search for the man underwater.
   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 for the Watauga River.
   A diver was used to search for Woodmancey on the day he disappeared, according to CCRS Director Terry Arnold, 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. On the second day of the search for Woodmancey, Arnold said that emergency crews will continue the search until he is located.