Cayce, SC (Paul Kirby) – The word that rescuers searching the muddy waters of the Congaree River Wednesday evening for a missing swimmer dreaded to hear was relayed to the Cayce DPS’s Command Center just before dark. “We have a recovery,” someone said over a radio channel they were using to coordinate their search. The body of a teen who disappeared under the water and never resurfaced just after 5:30 p.m. had been found. Certainly, all the professionals involved knew it was coming but still, many held onto a shred of hope that a miracle had somehow occurred.
The teen was enjoying the afternoon with others when he entered the water of the river, one of the area’s greatest attractions and assets. He was seen struggling, went under, and never resurfaced. Witnesses quickly called for help and the Cayce Department of Public Safety received their call at 5:47 p.m. They immediately responded with crews and their boat that launched just 12 minutes later. They did everything right and yet the situation ended tragically.
Once Cayce’s boat was in the water, they quickly called for assistance from the Columbia Fire Department. Later, personnel from the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and the SC Department of Natural Resources would also be on scene assisting. At the beginning, an ambulance crew from Lexington County EMS stood by, but eventually, that crew was released to respond to other emergencies. This was a decision that certainly no one wanted to make but the professionals knew was appropriate. It was a sure indication that their efforts were no longer focused on a rescue, but instead had changed to a recovery.
The swimmer went under in the vicinity of the lock, a very prominent landmark that any boater familiar with that stretch of the river knows. It allows you to safely transition around the old dam that water runs over constantly. It’s been there since the river was used as a means of transporting goods for commerce and a great area to fish. In the right conditions, boaters don’t even have to drop anchor to try their luck. The swirling waters that cross the old dam will hold a boat in their grip and allow anglers to cast their bait. It’s an area where white perch are abundant. It’s also known to river runners that the waters and currents near the lock are strong and fast.
Officials from Cayce have said that the boy’s body was recovered between the rock quarry at Frink and State Streets and Riverland Park, a subdivision whose residents are very familiar with the Congaree. In times of heavy rains and flooding, they get up close and personal with it as its waters fill their homes, yards, and streets. Those residents know the power of the river that is beautiful in all but the most extreme conditions.
Cayce emergency officials ran a textbook operation. They are well trained and equipped. Assistant DPS Director J.J. Jones was on scene assisting in the coordination of the many professionals that were working. Their command post further upriver was a hub for all the activity of people there supporting crews on and in the water. They tried, they hoped, lots of people prayed across the area but in the end, the outcome wasn’t what everyone wanted. It was God’s decision, a part of a greater plan we may never understand.
Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher will release the identification of the drowned boy after her office makes all notifications.