A Columbus resident who had befriended the family of missing kayaker Enrique Quinonez found his body while walking along the Flat Rock River, ending an exhaustive, 15-day search.
Larry Elkins of Columbus said he was searching along the riverbank in Mill Race Park at 1:30 p.m. Monday when he saw the victim’s remains below a large tree under the water.
The body was about 100 yards downstream from where Quinonez’s kayak capsized April 6 in floodwater.
Elkins called his fiancee, Jayne Ellis of Columbus, and a friend, Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Duke, who alerted the Bartholomew County Water Rescue Team.
Sheriff’s department divers recovered the body of Quinonez, who did not know how to swim, underneath a heavy tree in about 4 feet of water about 15 feet off the shoreline, said Maj. Todd Noblitt, spokesman for the department.
The body was lodged underneath the tree, nearly perpendicular to it, in water that would have been 11 to 12 feet deep when the flooding was at its highest in the river earlier this month.
Divers went into the water and attempted to move the log, but it was too large and water-logged for them to lift.
By digging out the sand underneath the log, they were able to free Quinonez’s body in about 10 minutes and bring it to shore, Noblitt said.
Quinonez was fully clothed, wearing a green Miami Hurricanes sweatshirt, black pants and shoes, Noblitt said.
The shoreline near where Quinonez was found has nearly a vertical drop to the water, meaning it was unlikely that searchers could have gotten close to the area from land before Monday.
The area had been searched hundreds of times by boat, Indiana Department of Natural Resources spokesman Jet Quillen said.
Earlier, Quillen had said it was likely that Quinonez would be found once the floodwater receded and the current slowed, which is what has happened.
DNR searchers also had predicted that Quinonez would be found about 100 yards downstream from where he went underwater.
Noblitt on Monday estimated Quinonez’s body was found about that distance downstream from where his kayak capsized.
“This is a relief to emergency workers — they have a lot of compassion for the family,” Noblitt said. “They know the family needs to have closure.”
Elkins and Ellis had befriended members of Quinonez’s family, who traveled from their home in Miami to participate in the search efforts.
Ellis said she had invited Quinonez’s parents, Carlos and Anna, to Easter services Sunday at Flintwood Wesleyan Church, where they prayed with Pastor Wes Jones that Quinonez would be found.
When that occurred the following day, Pastor Jones accompanied Elkins, Ellis and sheriff’s department detectives to notify Quinonez’s parents, who were searching in another area along the Flatrock River.
“They still had hope,” Ellis said of the moment Quinonez’s parents learned he had been found.
“His father (also a pastor) asked if he was still alive. They said no,” she said.
Bartholomew County Coroner Larry Fisher transported the victim’s body to the morgue at Columbus Regional Hospital, where his family visited shortly afterward. Fisher said cause of death is believed to be drowning and additional forensic tests will be done today.
The Flintwood church is helping the Quinonez family by putting them up in a hotel room, Ellis said.
Noblitt estimated sheriff’s deputies and the water rescue team had invested more than 1,000 man hours in the search. DNR searchers from six area counties logged more than 600 hours on the river, using sonar at times to try to find Quinonez, Quillen said.
They had been looking for Quinonez since he disappeared in floodwater while kayaking with a friend, Alex Cruz, 27, Columbus.
Cruz, 27, a Cummins Inc. employee, and Quinonez, 27, of Kalamazoo, Mich., bought kayaks two days earlier and put them into the flooded Flat-
rock River upstream from the Eighth Street bridge about 11:20 a.m. April 6. They were only in the kayaks a few minutes when Quinonez’s kayak capsized in the swift current in about 12 feet of water.
Neither man was wearing a life jacket.
Cruz jumped out of his kayak and dragged Quinonez by his hood to a tree and then grabbed on to another tree. Cruz told investigators he saw Quinonez lose his grip on the tree and slip under the water, not resurfacing.
Cruz swam to shore yelling for help, and a passerby called 911.
Searchers have been combing the river since, by boat and walking the shoreline. Dogs from the Indiana K9 Search and Recovery were brought in April 12 to search the Flatrock River, indicating the possibility of a body in several areas. However, they did not alert specifically in the area where the body was found.
Elkins and Ellis had been following the story about Quinonez’ presumed drowning, and the search for his body.
“We felt this real compassion that we needed to help,” Ellis said.
They were moved by the fact that Quinonez’s parents were more than 1,000 miles from home, here on their own.
“If that were me, I would want someone to help us,” Ellis said.
“To me, now, they are like family,” she said. “I think they have a lot of faith — that will help them get through this.”