UPDATE: Company hires private dive team; underwater search for worker’s body will begin Friday morning

Published 6:20 pm Thursday, February 9, 2023

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NATCHEZ — The search for the body of Donny Mitchell has been suspended for Thursday evening. However, it will begin again Friday morning when a dive team hired by Buzzi Unicem arrives to do a more thorough underwater search of the area.

“New things have happened this afternoon. Buzzi has stepped in and hired a private dive team to come down. They will be here at 8 a.m. tomorrow to search the area he went into the water as well as the area that is covered with driftwood,” said Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten. “Buzzi has really stepped up to the plate, as has Terral River Services, in funding this private dive team to search for this 20-year employee. Buzzi wants to make sure we have done all we can to complete the search of the area.”

Thursday afternoon, two barges and a dock were moved in the area where Mitchell, 50, went into the water on Tuesday at about 4:30 a.m.

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Witnesses said Mitchell was climbing a ladder from the barge up to a walkway above when he fell into the river. They threw him a life preserver ring and tried to get him with a drag hook, but neither effort was successful.

Personnel with Adams County Search and Rescue, Adams County Sheriff’s Office, Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office, Mississippi Wildlife and Fisheries, Adams County Emergency Management, and Natchez Fire Department have worked diligently since to try to locate Mitchell’s body.

All the while, Mitchell’s family members have watched from the river’s bank in anguish.

On Wednesday, Chops Wrecker Service brought in a crane to move driftwood in the event Mitchell’s body had been caught under it.

On Thursday, searchers with state-of-the-art sonar located two objects under the water, and the search was concentrated in those areas, but Mitchell’s body has yet to be found.

Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten said officials with Adams County Search and Rescue, Mississippi Wildlife and Fisheries, Catahoula, Louisiana, Fire District 4, along with the help of a private professional fisherman, were on the river Thursday afternoon searching.

Patten said the professional fisherman’s boat was equipped with state-of-the-art sonar that provides a live, 360-degree view of objects in the water below. Typical sonar gives a view only of objects straight down below.

“The owners of Buzzi Unicem had the company that owned the barges move them, and the dock the barges were attached to was moved as well. The private fisherman brought new sonar technology, and because of it, we are concentrating the search on two areas specifically,” Patten said. “Things have been spotted on radar. We don’t know what those things are, but we are dragging those areas as we speak, and we will continue to do so until we feel good about whatever it is in that area.”

“The water is too murky to tell from sonar what those objects are in the river, but we are working to recover whatever it is,” the sheriff said.

“We did get a report about some clothing found down river that a tug boat had spotted. We sent deputies and searchers in boats along with our drone down there to recover those items and it turned out that was nothing. I want to put those rumors to rest. All our efforts are focused right here in the vicinity of where the victim went in the river.”

Natchez Fire Department, Adams County Sheriff’s Office and Adams County Emergency Management were on scene Thursday afternoon to assist searchers from the AMR incident command center, located by Buzzi Unicem USA’s terminal at the river on L.E. Berry Road, where Mitchell went into the river.

“The water is too murky to tell from sonar what those objects are in the river, but we are working to recover whatever it is,” the sheriff said.