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Search is on for missing kayaker on Paw Paw River

WATERVLIET TOWNSHIP, Mich. -  As the 24-hour mark nears, rescuers are still searching for a Niles man who went missing while kayaking along the Paw Paw River Tuesday night.

Police were first called to a section of the river near Smith Boulevard in Watervliet just after 7 p.m. Tuesday.

A 35-year-old Niles man, whose name has not been released, disappeared after his kayak got stuck in a log jam in the river.

Two other men, who were with the man, made it to land safely -- one did so in his kayak; the other swam to shore after being knocked into the water by the same log jam.

"The river is probably three times its size and we have a lot of water that's out of the banks," said Dan Jones, the chief of Watervliet's fire department. "We've got a lot of entanglement. We've got a lot of log jams that we have to eliminate one by one with either hands and feet or by visually inspecting them."

The Berrien County Sheriff's Office Dive Team, a drone operated by an Elkhart firefighter, and a personal airplane flown by a firefighter's father all took part in Wednesday's search.

Jones said crews worked until 11:30 Tuesday night looking for the missing kayaker, before stopping and regrouping Wednesday morning.

First responders set up a command center at a residential property on Smith Blvd on Wednesday. That's where Jones helped direct a search of the fast-moving, 40-degree water.

He explained the main search area was in Watervliet and nearby Coloma, because he didn't think the Niles man could have floated too far away.

"With the river being out of its banks, there's a lot of entanglements and the channel that has the highest flow in it is pretty narrow," Jones said. "So he would've had to have remained in that channel in order to get further down river."

Rescue trucks were spotted throughout the city on Wednesday.

The steady flow of the recently-flooded river drained first responders, but did not deter them.

"Until he's found, somebody will be on this river," Jones said.

As of 5:30 Wednesday evening, the missing man had not been found.

Jones said he believed none of the men who were kayaking in the dark were wearing life jackets. He said no one should go out on the river when conditions are rough, but if they feel compelled to, they should at least wear a brightly colored life jacket.



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