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Storms, equipment trouble delay search for rafter from Tampa

TAMPA — Citing equipment problems and bad weather, crews called off search efforts Monday for the body of a Tampa man who died last week on a white-water rafting trip in South Carolina.

The search was expected to resume this morning.

A recovery crew including a dive team and dozens of first responders has been scouring the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River for the body of Thomas P. Hill since Wednesday, when the 50-year-old fell off a raft about 100 miles west of Greenville near the Georgia state line, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Hill, a sales manager for Sherwin-Williams and a father of four, had been rafting on a corporate retreat, according to a company spokesman.

Officials with the U.S. Forest Service said they had searched the river with a dive team, sonar and an underwater camera.

"We had some challenges today," incident commander Scott Loftis said in a statement. "We are bringing in additional equipment and watching the weather forecast tonight to ensure safe and efficient operations tomorrow."

Hill was one of seven people on the raft, according to the U.S. Forest Service. He and several others, including the boat's guide, fell off the raft after it encountered rough water. All surfaced except for Hill, who officials believe was caught by rocks and drowned.

Search crews spotted Hill's body late Thursday, but water levels were too high to recover it, according to officials. River currents moved the body Friday, and crews were unable to find it.

Drowning deaths on the Chattooga have been infrequent. A 58-year-old Nashville man died a year ago, and his death came nine years after the previous drowning on the river, U.S. Forest Service officials said.

Southeastern Guides, the white-water operator for Hill's trip, has seemingly been cleared of wrongdoing and is assisting in the recovery.

"As far as we know, they were operating within safety guidelines," U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Michelle Burnett said last weekend.

Storms, equipment trouble delay search for rafter from Tampa 06/23/13 [Last modified: Monday, June 24, 2013 9:57pm]
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