BODY RECOVERED: Donny Mitchell fell into Mississippi River Feb. 8

Published 6:07 pm Tuesday, March 14, 2023

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NATCHEZ — Missing for more than a month, the body of Donny Mitchell was recovered late Tuesday afternoon from the Mississippi River.

Mitchell, 50, of Clayton, Louisiana, fell into the Mississippi River at about 4:30 a.m. on Feb. 8 from a barge while attempting to climb a ladder onto a walkway at Buzzi Unicem USA’s terminal on L.E. Berry Road in Natchez.

“At 4:01 p.m., I received a phone call from Adams County Port Director Anthony Hauer stating that he believed he saw a body in the river,” said Travis Patten, Adams County Sheriff. “They were down there unloading another barge, and Hauer said there appeared to be a body float up with jeans and a shirt on.

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“At that point, I contacted my investigators with the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, called for search and rescue, contacted emergency management and contacted the Mississippi Wildlife and Fisheries for assistance,” Patten said.

He said Natchez Fire Chief Robert Arrington was also on the scene this afternoon, helping with the recovery effort.

“At approximately 4:22 p.m., Adams County Search and Rescue launched their boat in the river, followed shortly after by Mississippi Wildlife and Fisheries. They were able to retrieve the body from underneath the pier and were able to positively identify as Mr. Donny Mitchell,” Patten said.

He said identity of the body was made at the scene because Mitchell had his driver’s license in his wallet on his person.

“The family has been notified at this point and Adams County Coroner James Lee’s office has taken possession of the body,” the sheriff said.

“We know this tragic event has been extremely hard on the family, and we hope this helps bring closure to the situation. Our thoughts and our prayers are with them,” he said.

On Feb. 8, Arrington said witnesses to the accident threw Mitchell a life preserver ring, but he was unable to grab it. They then tried to save the man using a drag hook, but were unsuccessful.

Responders from the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, Natchez Fire Department, Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Mississippi and Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries offices worked for nearly a week to locate and recover Mitchell’s body. AMR ambulance service set up its mobile incident command center in order to give a unified command during the search, Patten said.

The sheriff’s office used its drone with heat sensing to aid in the search, all to no avail. The cold temperature of the water, along with the swift currents and high winds hampered search efforts.

Every effort was made to locate Mitchell’s body, including moving a walkway near where barges docked. A professional fisherman with advanced sonar technology came in to scan the area. Even a private dive team hired by Buzzi Unicem was unsuccessful in locating Mitchell.