Sonar team joins hunt for missing boater

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SAGLE — A Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office sonar team is being used to find the body of a Washington state man who presumably drowned in Lake Pend Oreille earlier this month, Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler announced on Friday.

John Key, a 67-year-old Newman Lake resident, disappeared while returning to Bayview after a day on the lake on July 2. Friends discovered his unoccupied vessel near Cedar Creek. The boat was idling in a neutral gear, Bonner County sheriff’s officials said.

Friends and nearby boaters began searching for Key and three Bonner County sheriff’s vessels joined the search party, but no evidence of Key could be found. A private helicopter piloted by Bonner County Chief Pilot Lloyd Claycomb, meanwhile, searched from the air.

Marine units continued search on July 3-4 and sheriff’s officials here reached out to Ralston & Associates, a high-tech search and recovery outfit from Kuna which has conducted a number of successful searches on Lake Pend Oreille over the years.

Ralston, however, was unavailable, which prompted Wheeler to seek assistance from Kootenai County’s sonar-equipped search team.

Key drowned in an area where the lake is 1,100 feet deep, Undersheriff Ror Lakewold said in a news release.

“A body in the water will usually sink to the bottom and is rarely recovered from those depths. A combination of the extreme depths, associated water pressure and cold temperatures make resurfacing of the victim highly unlikely,” Lakewold said.

The U.S. Navy research detachment in Bayview is reporting water temperatures at approximately 39 degrees below 600 feet.

Boaters are being asked to steer clear of the search area while the sonar vessel is running its grid patterns on the lake.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

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