Kelsey Starling search enters 6th day on Smith Lake

Local News

WINSTON COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — From the air and on the water, the search for 26-year-old Kelsey Starling continued into its sixth day.

Starling is a teacher at Birmingham City Schools and has been missing since a boating accident the evening of Independence Day.

“We are still searching in the area,” said Sgt. Chad Pate with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. “We’re utilizing sonar, cadaver dogs, divers, aerial search, and visual search to continue to search the area.”

Pate tells CBS 42 that the search team is pulling out all the stops, but thus far, they have been unable to locate Starling. 

Jeff Tolbert, the General Manager of Trident Marina, explains that Smith Lake, decades ago, was a canyon before it flooded. That means that the lake today has depth averaging 150 feet, with a range of 80 to 200 feet in the search area. Also, at the bottom of the lake, is an actual Forrest covered in water.

“When you have a pine tree that is sticking up a hundred plus feet tall in the bottom of the lake and it’s still 100 feet to the water’s surface, it’s very easy for objects to get lodged,” said Tolbert.

And these elements are making the search difficult, according to Pate. 

“The depth of the water makes it extremely difficult as does the fact there are standing timbers,” said Pate. “You can’t just put your average diver in that.”

That’s why the Alexander City Rescue Squad arrived on the scene Wednesday morning with a state-of-the-art, 360-degree monitoring sonar. The sonar is dropped into the water and provides detailed imaging of what is beneath the surface.

That specific sonar was used in a recovery mission on Lake Jordan within the last week and is one of two in the state per Pate.

Aside from the sonar and the resources already committed such as boats and helicopters, Pate does not believe there’s much more that can be done except to continue searching. 

“We’ve pretty much ‘full-court-pressed’ at this point,” said Pate. “We really don’t have much more than I can think of and in my experience, there’s not much more we can put at [the search].”

In terms of the long-term plans for the search effort, Pate explains that the team is going step-by-step.

“We’re taking each day at a time at this point in time,” said Pate. “We are going to search [Wednesday] and the plan is to search [Thursday] and then we’ll decide what we’re going to do the next day so that’s kinda where we’re at right now.”

Wednesday marked the first time the Alexander City Rescue Squad’s sonar was utilized in the search, and it is expected to be used again Thursday.

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