WINSTON COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — Although the ALEA Marine Patrol Division announced that the search for 26-year-old Kelsey Starling has been suspended indefinitely on Friday, several dive crews made the trip to Smith Lake Monday to pick up the effort.
For one diver, it’s personal.
Ashton Davis is the Chief of the Houston County Rescue Unit. He joined the organization four years ago and, since then, he and his team have been involved in dozens of diving operations.
But this one is different. This time, he is searching for Kelsey Starling. This time, he is searching for a friend.
“I graduated High School with Kelsey,” said Davis. “It does make it personal. This one right here is the most important [operation] I’ve ever worked.”
Starling has been missing from Smith Lake since a boating accident the night of Independence Day. Crews had been combing Smith Lake for over two weeks before the indefinite suspension of the search.
But that’s in part why Davis and his crew made the trip up from Houston County alongside several other organizations such as Haleyville Rescue Squad, the Dale County Sheriff’s Office and more.
“We’re a totally different agency than the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency,” said Davis. “We have deep water divers that are experienced in low [visibility], deep water recoveries.”
The water reaches over 200 feet deep in the area where crews are searching for Starling. Davis tells CBS 42 that recreational divers usually cannot dive more than 130 feet below the surface, but his team can potentially go all the way to the bottom of Smith Lake.
Davis tells CBS 42 that his team has been following the search for Starling since the night she went missing. They know the difficulties, and they recognize the dangers.
But for Davis, the hope of finding his High School classmate is very much so still alive.
“It’s only been 18 days. We want to bring Kelsey home to her family,” said Davis. “This is not where she’s going to stay forever so we’re going to do our best to bring her back.”
The Winston County EMA tells CBS 42 that a dive team from Florida State arrive late Monday afternoon as well and that the full coalition of divers will be in the water Tuesday.