UPDATE: River search concentrated on two areas after images spotted on sonar

Published 3:03 pm Thursday, February 9, 2023

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NATCHEZ — Images spotted on sonar led searchers to key in on two specific areas of the Mississippi River on Thursday as efforts to find Donny Mitchell continued.

Mitchell, 50, was making his way from a barge to a walkway via a ladder on Tuesday at about 4:30 a.m. when he slipped and fell into the Mississippi River. Witnesses who threw him a life preserver ring and tried to grab him with a drag hook were unsuccessful.

What began as a rescue effort is now a recovery effort, as searchers look for Mitchell’s body, as some of his immediate family members watch from the river’s bank.

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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 also 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.”

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.

“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 downriver 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.”