Man drowns at popular Seminary canoe spot - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

UPDATE: Body found near popular Seminary canoe spot


At approximately 3:30 Tuesday afternoon authorities in Covington County found the body of Jerry Randall Cooper who, friends say, fell into the Okatoma Creek early Sunday morning.

Cooper's body was found in the creek approximately 1.5 miles downstream from the location where witnesses said he jumped in. He was standing just outside of the cabin where he was staying with friends when he went into the creek, just upstream from the Seminary Canoe Rental boat launch site.

After he went into the water, a friend chased 49-year-old Cooper as he was swept down the creek, following his shouts until he disappeared.

"The water being probably about between 50 and 60 degrees, probably hypothermia overcame him and he lost all sense of how to swim or how to get back to the creek bank," said Covington County Emergency Management Director Greg Sanford.

First responders received the call about a possible drowning at approximately 1:40 Sunday morning. Search efforts went into full swing at dawn, starting at the spot in the river where friends said the victim was last seen.

The search in the 12 to 15 feet deep water is centered around sonar detection. The sensory device is taken out in a boat canvassing up and down the river and will signal if a large object is on the river bottom; at that point divers are dispatched to go under and explore.

"We'll go in one diver at a time and we'll have a standby diver," said James Evans, a diver for the Jones County Emergency Management Operations. "Today the visibility is real minimal - probably about 6 inches - it's really hard to see but we're just mainly feeling."

Late in the afternoon the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency arrived with a cadaver dog that could be taken in a boat to any spot the sonar hit, and will react if it smells a body below the surface.

Through the afternoon rope lines crossed the river marking where divers had gone in; those lines will go foot-by-foot in a grid-like pattern until the body is found, officials said.

With more than 15 agencies and between 50 and 60 personnel on the scene, teams worked until after 9:00 Sunday evening and went out at daybreak Monday - divers searching the murky waters for a body.

"That's sad to get that call to have to come out here and try to find someone, you know your heart just goes out to them and you wish that hopefully that a good thing will come out of this - that maybe he's not in the water. But you know, we can't rule that out," said Sanford.

Though a body has not been recovered, Sunday night Covington County authorities were calling the incident an accidental drowning. Officials have not confirmed whether alcohol was a factor.

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