At 7 a.m. today, searchers from state and local agencies planned to begin day three of their search for missing 13-year-old Griffin Prince.
Griffin, who is believed to be somewhere under the surface of Lake Lanier near Buford Dam, went missing late Monday night after a fishing boat struck a pontoon boat carrying four families, including Prince and 12 other people.
Griffin’s 9-year-old brother, Jake, was killed in the collision, which occurred around 10:30 p.m. Several other people were injured but not seriously.
Cumming resident Paul J. Bennett, 44, is free on bail from charges of boating under the influence in connection with the wreck.
Teams from federal, state and local agencies have spent more than 12 hours each day on the lake searching for the boy since the wreck occurred.
As they scan below the surface with sonar, officials with the state Department of Natural Resources law enforcement division mark the water with a buoy and a GPS mark each time they find something worth a closer look.
Because the crash happened at night, it has been difficult for officials to determine exactly where the teen might be.
In most cases, witnesses can point out the approximate spot a drowning victim was last seen in the water. But that is not the case with the Monday wreck, and officials say they are working with a larger area.
“The thing that we have on the other cases that we have is a better starting point,” Sgt. Kelley Edwards, commander of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team, said Wednesday. “We normally have a smaller (search) area at the point where (we) are now; it’s easier when you have more of a ... point of reference.”
Water in the search area, which Edwards roughly estimated as three-quarters of a mile square, ranges in depth from 60 to 130 feet.
DNR officials have divided the search area into a grid and are using a 7-foot-long side scan sonar to scan the lake for the boy’s body.
The 10 dive team members spent the last two days searching every underwater spot marked as a possible search site. They sometimes stay underwater for a half-hour or more.
Most of the underwater area from about 40 feet below the water’s surface to the bottom contains standing trees, relics from the days before the lake was filled in the late 1950s. That makes it nearly impossible for divers to see underwater.
“It’s zero visibility down there; it’s all by touch,” said Ranger 1st Class Brian Adams of the DNR. “And it’s also awfully dangerous because the divers are in the tops of trees.”
The sheriff’s team dove in four different areas Wednesday with no success.
“They can actually go right by the target, and if they don’t touch it, they’ll never find it,” Adams said.
Today’s search is expected to go much like the previous two days. Crews will hit the water shortly after sunlight and retire before the light fades.
Representatives of the recovery teams say they’ll continue searching for the boy at this tempo through the end of the week.
But DNR officials, who have pulled manpower from across the state, say after that they’ll have to evaluate how much longer they can continue devoting time and resources to the search.
The sheriff’s office dive team is also limited in how long it can keep up the pace. The 10-man dive team is made up of volunteers who have other responsibilities in the agency. And while they search for Griffin, their colleagues cover their regular duties.
“We cannot sustain this long term,” said Maj. Stephen Adams of the DNR.