SPENCER — The search for Kenny Angel, who lived below the Spencer Dam, continued this past Sunday with 45 local volunteers and 17 specialized search and rescue personnel participating in one of the most extensive searches ever conducted in the area.
Local law enforcement from the Holt County Sheriff's Office, Nebraska State Patrol and O’Neill Police Department as well as members from all six Holt County fire departments engaged in a search with the state’s premier rescue group Nebraska Task Force 1 (NE-TF1).
The search began at 8 a.m. with personnel checking in at a command post set up 2 miles south of the Niobrara River on Highway 281.
Angel has been missing since the structural failure of the dam during the early morning hours on March 14.
Members of each fire department were paired into teams and then assigned with a local landowner to search pre-designated areas on the south side of the Niobrara River for maximum coverage.
Team members retrieved some personal belongings of Angel, but the location of Angel still eludes searchers despite the eight-hour exploration of the river bottom.
Task Force 1 was airdropped by its Nebraska National Guard helicopter escort next to the areas that used to occupy Angel’s Bar, the Angel household and downstream. The group deployed with cadaver dogs and punched aeration holes in the sand in hopes of giving the dogs a scent. During the course of the search, the handlers said their dogs did not indicate as to the final resting place of Angel.
"Our team was punching holes near the river bed and they kept hitting large chunks of ice at depths of up to 7-8 ft. below the sand bars," said NE-TF1 leader Brad Thavenet. "The area up here is hazardous. We have seen some devastation in all our travels, but this area was hit extremely hard and the ice shelves on the shore melting with all the debris makes for a dangerous situation to anyone trying to traverse the terrain.”
NE-TF1 is one of 28 Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) task forces in the national disaster response system under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). NE-TF1 was established in 1993 with Lincoln Fire & Rescue Department as the sponsoring agency.
US&R is a multi-hazard discipline as it may be needed for a variety of emergencies or disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons, severe storms and tornadoes, floods, dam failures, technological accidents, terrorist activities, structural collapse and hazardous materials release.
Each task force consists of trained, equipped, and organized personnel capable of conducting US&R. The task forces have been designed to include search, rescue, medical and technical elements to provide an integrated, self-contained approach to locating, extricating and treating victims. Under FEMA the operational concept for activation of NE-TF1 will be predicated on a request from the President of the U.S. for a federal response or the governor of Nebraska for an in-state response.