Underwater trees continue to challenge officials on day 9 of Kelsey Starling search

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WINSTON COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — For nine days, search crews have thrown everything they have at finding 26-year-old Kelsey Starling, a speech pathologist with Birmingham City Schools. Starling went missing from Smith Lake following a boating accident the night of Independence Day.

But after nine days of searching, Starling still has yet to be found.

Once again, standing timber that appears to form a “forest” beneath the surface of Smith Lake continues to create difficulties for search crews.

“We and everybody that has been involved have pulled out all the stops,” said Lt. Joshua Gibbs with Daphne Search and Rescue, who explains that the trees hinder visibility beneath the water.

Daphne Search and Rescue utilized their state-of-the-art Kongsberg Sonar to see the bottom of the lake, and provided screenshots to CBS 42.

Here are another six screenshots of what Daphne Search and Rescue picked up with their sonar at the bottom of Smith Lake…

Posted by Robert Sherman CBS 42 on Saturday, July 13, 2019

On average, the trees range between 40 and 100 feet tall.

“The trees that we’re seeing provide obstacles to us,” said Gibbs. “Both being able to see the bottom well, and to see a target in the water if they’re there.”

Even with all the challenges, Gibbs affirms that he and his team are committed to putting forth their best effort to bring Starling home.

That commitment is shared by residents of Smith Lake as well. Gibbs tells CBS 42 that the community has put their full support behind his team, even to the point of a local resident opening up her home to them to provide lodging throughout the search effort.

Other residents, such as Cortney Slaughter, are working to garner support for the family of Kelsey Starling.

“We want the [Starling] family to know that they are all in our prayers, our thoughts,” said Slaughter.

Photo of a blue ribbon tied to a dock on Smith Lake.

Slaughter decided to tie blue ribbons on the end of her dock to show support for the Starling family, and encouraged her neighbors via Facebook to do the same.

What began as a Facebook post quickly blossomed into the support of the entire community. Dozens of photos shared by residents displaying their ribbons continue to pop up.

“We want her found, we want the family to have some peace. We want [the search crews] to bring her home”

Cortney slaughter

Lt. Gibbs tells CBS 42 that when heading out onto the water, there are several precautions one must take to ensure safety.

When used, life jackets and kill switches can help prevent a large number of boating related injuries and deaths, according to Gibbs. That’s why he believes it is crucial boaters take safety seriously and use both.

Safely operating a watercraft and following the laws of the waterways are also important, especially when it comes to traveling on the right-hand side of the lake.

If boaters have any questions regarding the laws of the waterways, Gibbs encourages them to reach out to ALEA.

The search for Kelsey Starling is expected to resume Sunday, barring bad weather.

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