UPDATE: Chautauqua police confirmed that the missing boater’s body was found at 6 a.m. this morning. We will have a full update later this afternoon. This story is no longer up to date, but we will keep it live for information’s sake.
After three full days of nearly around-the-clock efforts, officials are scaling down the search for the man who went missing in Chautauqua Lake.
Ricky L. Whipple, 48, of Conewango Valley, was reported missing on June 25 after he fell off an inner tube in the waters near Chautauqua Institution. He was not wearing a lifejacket and is presumed drowned.
The Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office, along with New York State Police, patrols from three lakeside towns and the Chautauqua Volunteer Fire Department, have been conducting dusk-to-dawn searches by boat, helicopter, sonar, divers and kayaks since Saturday from a command center on a dock along North Lake Drive, said Chautauqua Police Chief Al Akin. But after taking an aerial photo by helicopter Wednesday morning, officials decided to close the command center and let the volunteer firemen return to their jobs during the day, Akin said.
Akin said state police, his office and the sheriff’s office will continue to search during the day, with the volunteers taking over in the early morning hours and evenings. Officials on kayaks will continue to sweep the perimeter of the lake in the event the body washes ashore, Akin said, and police will still take sporadic aerial shots of the lake.
Police don’t know where Whipple fell, Akin said, forcing them to cast a wide search radius. However, as the body decomposes, it should fill with gasses and float to the surface, said George Murphy, vice president and chief marketing officer of the Institution.
Although drownings in the lake are not unheard of, Murphy said this is the first time in his five years at the Institution that one has happened during the summer and right off the grounds.
Akin said people have little reason to be concerned when in the lake, so long as they adhere to the law and common sense: wear a life vest and don’t drink and drive.
“You follow the rules of the road when you’re driving,” Akin said. “You have to follow the rules of the water when boating.”