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Officials find body while searching for missing kayaker in Indian Creek

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Public Safety

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Boat crews from the Cedar Rapids Fire Department and Johnson County Metro Dive Team return to shore alongside Rosedale Road SE in Cedar Rapids as they suspend search operations for a missing kayaker on Indian Creek as night falls on Monday, Sept. 3, 2018. Police and fire officials were dispatched at 4:28 p.m. to a report of two kayakers overturned in the rain-swollen waters of Indian Creek. A female kayaker was rescued by Cedar Rapids Fire Department at 5:04 p.m. and searched unsuccessfully for her male companion using boats and drones. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Rescue crews continued to search Tuesday for a man whose kayak overturned Monday afternoon in Indian Creek.

Officials said John Michael Conley, 34, and his wife, Samantha Conley, 30, went into the water when their kayak hit debris and overturned. The incident occurred about ¾ miles upstream from the Rosedale Road SE Bridge, according to Cedar Rapids Fire Battalion Chief Andy Olsen.

Samantha Conley was able to climb on top of the debris and was rescued from the swiftly moving water Monday evening, officials said, but her husband is still missing.

Members of the Cedar Rapids Fire Department and the Johnson County Metro Dive Team searched for John Conley for about three hours, but rescue operations were called off Monday night as darkness fell.

Search operations picked up again Tuesday morning, according to Cedar Rapids Public Safety spokesperson Greg Buelow, but rain and rising waters have presented some challenges.

“We are using every available resource and every piece of technology that we can safely use,” Olsen told The Gazette on Tuesday. “There is no approach or method that we are not using, as long as we can do so safely, given the current circumstances.”

Olsen said Tuesday’s efforts consisted of water, land and air searches of the area.

Boats were deployed in areas downstream from the Rosedale Road bridge, he said, starting at the Cedar River and working their way upstream. Along the shore, “expert searchers” combed the creek banks, looking for any signs of the missing kayaker. Additionally, Olsen said, about 40 volunteers — mainly family and friends of the Conleys — have been walking the banks. Family members and friends have also set up watch posts on every bridge that spans Indian Creek between Rosedale Road SE and Otis Road SE, watching the water for any signs of John Conley.

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In areas where the water is too high and fast, Olsen said emergency personnel launched drones, flying them over the water, primarily in the area where the kayak overturned.

Olsen said several people have called an offered to help with the search, but emergency personnel are limiting the volunteer pool to family and friends.

“People want to get involved, they want to help,” he said. “But this is a different type search situation. It’s not like the search for a missing person where there is a huge area to cover. In this situation, we know what happened and a have a pretty good idea of where to look. It’s really the conditions that we’re battling right now.”

Olsen said the creek’s high water and velocity, as well as debris, can be problematic for search boats. The boats can get caught on debris, and the high water made passing under some bridges impossible. Additionally, he said, the velocity of the water can push boats into debris or low bridges, putting the vessels and those aboard at risk.

Buelow said the kayak overturned around 4:15 p.m. Monday. Witnesses reported hearing Samantha Conley calling for help, and first responders were dispatched to the 1800 block of Timber Wolf Trail SE at 4:28 p.m.

Samantha Conley was rescued at 5:04 p.m. and taken to Mercy Medical Center where she was treated for injuries that weren’t life-threatening and released.

Buelow said the kayak was found about 1½ miles downstream from where it overturned. The Conleys were not wearing life vests.

Buelow urged the public to wear appropriate safety gear when boating, and also encouraged people stay off waterways until the current spate of severe weather passes and currents and water levels return to calmer levels.


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“We don’t want people on the waterways right now,” he told The Gazette on Monday. “It’s particularly dangerous, even if you’re experienced.”

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