By Margie Wuebker
Cool temperatures and brisk winds are complicating search efforts aimed at locating the bodies of two local teenagers presumed to have drowned in Grand Lake during the weekend.
Volunteers wearing insulated coveralls set off this morning on day five of the search for Greg Parker, 15, of Celina, and Jonas Kahlig, 15, of rural Coldwater.
The Celina High School freshmen set off around 5 p.m. Friday from Coldwater Beach at the south end of the lake. They reportedly planned to fish from a 9-foot johnboat powered by a small trolling motor before crossing the lake to rendezvous with friends.
The boat, which apparently capsized after winds picked up, was found less than five hours later near a pier at West Bank Park. Life jackets, oars and shoes also were recovered.
"We are continuing the same search pattern," John Wisse, public information officer for the Ohio Division of Watercraft, told The Daily Standard this morning. "That means starting along West Bank Park and moving out." The wind continues to blow in an easterly to northeasterly direction as it has since Friday night, leading officials to believe the bodies will likely surface at some point along the West Bank shoreline.
"The coroner (Dr. Timothy Heinrichs of Coldwater) has told us that short of direct recovery the bodies could surface mid to late week," Wisse said. "That is based on variable weather conditions as well as water temperatures, which range from 50 degrees on the surface to 40s at the bottom."
Searchers continue to work the same prime pattern -- a 1-mile stretch from the spillway at the north to the park at the south as well as a 2-mile stretch from the park eastward to Safety Island.
Boats plying the waters today include those from Grand Lake St. Marys State Park, the Division of Watercraft, Montezuma Fire Department and the Mercer County Sheriff's Office. Specially trained dogs, capable of picking up human scent on land and water, and their handlers alternate between the rocky shoreline and the boats.
Authorities hope to use sonar equipment this afternoon -- the first time since Sunday. However, dragging operations have not resumed, according to Wisse. A helicopter from the Ohio Department of Transportation is expected to join the search later today.
Searchers weathered less than ideal weather conditions Tuesday with temperatures in the low 50s, occasional drizzle and winds averaging 15 to 20 miles per hour with gusts of up to 30.
"They get wet, cold and bounced around out on the water," state park Manager Craig Morton said about the recovery teams. "It's also harder for the dog teams."
Morton is directing activities from a mobile command center -- his pickup truck -- while fielding offers of assistance from motorists driving through the park and others arriving on foot. Some show up with food while others come bearing picnic jugs and hot pots containing assorted beverages.
"Our day starts and ends the same way," he said, scanning the choppy water Monday. "We check the shoreline each morning and evening. If something floats in at night, we will find it first thing in the morning."
The presumed drownings have become a main topic of discussion and speculation around the 21-square-mile lake.
Chuck Black, an employee of Windy Point Marina near Montezuma, said the telephone continues to ring as customers as far away as Dayton inquire about recovery of the teenagers.
"People are concerned for the families," he said. "No one can imagine what they are going through these days."
Some fishermen wonder whether they should participate in a crappie tournament scheduled this weekend at Grand Lake. Others plan to go ahead, saying extra sets of eyes could be helpful in bringing the search to an end.