The effort to recover the body of a Peacock Point boy who was swept into Lake Erie Feb. 15 resumed this past weekend.
More than 50 volunteers were debriefed at the Peacock Point community hall on March 1 before fanning out along the north shore in an attempt to spot something in the water. Helping co-ordinate the search is William Bolton, an instructor with the Advanced Tactical Training Search and Rescue Division of Kitchener.
“Our concern today is safety,” Bolton told the volunteers. “We don’t want two or three more victims from all this, so you will be paired up. If we have 50 people signing in, we want 50 people signing out.
“If you’re within 50 feet of the shoreline, I want you to wear a life preserver. You can very easily slip into the lake.”
Alex Ottley, 9, a Grade 3 student at Jarvis Public School, was playing on the ice off Lakeside Drive with an eight-year-old friend when a wave pulled them into the water.
Ottley’s 10-year-old sister ran to the road and hailed passing motorists. Rescuers managed to pull the eight-year-old to safety but Ottley slipped beneath the ice and never resurfaced.
An intensive air, land and water search ensued but OPP called off the effort on Feb. 25.
Ottley’s family called in Bolton’s group, which operates on donations and does not bill victim’s families. Bolton said police have debriefed him knowing he would likely take over. Bolton told the volunteers police wish them well.
“The poor guys were mentally and physically exhausted when they left,” said Bolton, who brought along his search-and-rescue dog Sheba.
“Don’t just look at the uniform. There’s a human being inside that uniform.”
Bolton and his team have committed a week to scouring the lakeshore.
In preparation, an expert has modelled all relevant vectors – wind speed, current strength, water temperature, water depth, Ottley’s weight and the clothes he was wearing – on a computer. Four locations off Peacock Point have been identified as areas of interest. They will be explored by boat and side-scan sonar this week.
Peacock Point resident Rocky Richardson spends 100-plus days a year fishing the waters in this part of Haldimand County. He warned on Sunday that the shoreline is treacherous and offered to pilot the boat. Bolton accepted.
“There are rock piles and all kinds of crap out there,” Richardson said. “It’s not so bad with the high water level but there are some places you just don’t go with a boat.
“Ice isn’t going to be the only problem. There is a lot of debris in the water as well.”
Several members of the Haldimand County fire service are pitching in as community volunteers. Trevor Dell of Station 3 in Jarvis attended because Alex was good friends with his nine-year-old son.
“My son lives in Peacock Point,” Dell said. “This hits close to home.”
Bolton told the group to look for something brightly coloured. Ottley was wearing an orange item of clothing when last seen.
“In the event you find him don’t try to retrieve him,” Bolton said. “This is a recovery, not a rescue. If we find him we will leave the recovery to the appropriate people.”
Bolton added that – once this is resolved – Peacock Point will have to make time to grieve.
“If and when we find Alex, you’re going to want to bring counsellors in,” Bolton said.
“This will have an impact on your community for the rest of your lives. I spoke with Alex’s grandmother, and I can tell you she is in pieces.”