MULLINS, SC (WMBF) – The six-day search for a missing Mullins boater has come to an end after a body found along the Little Pee Dee River Wednesday was confirmed to be 55-year-old Michael Shelley.
The cause of Shelley's death has been linked to drowning and hypothermia, according to Horry County Deputy Coroner Darris Fowler.
Shelley's body washed ashore on the Little Pee Dee River in the Gallivants Ferry area off Highway 501 on Wednesday afternoon, six days after Shelley took his boat out on the water and did not return.
Michael Shelley goes missing
Spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources Robert McCullough says a small speed boat was found on Friday, Feb. 15 near Cartwheel Landing, a private landing near Bass Lake. Shelley lived near Cartwheel Landing.
"We have reason to believe the boater is in the waters, especially since his boat was found still in gear. The investigation is pretty straightforward, meaning we do not expect any foul play," McCullough said earlier during the search for Shelley.
When temperatures dropped below freezing Sunday evening, the search below water became too dangerous to continue, and was resumed Monday morning.
On Monday, DNR discontinued the underwater search with divers, and are continued to search the surface with a boat.
"It is a dangerous diving area but our dive team has veteran divers that are proceeding with caution," McCullough explained.
Joe Ard, also with the DNR, described the marshy area as hazardous for the dive team.
"The ground isn't solid, so the area is constantly changing. Trees and limbs are pulled into the waters, even the most veteran boater could get knocked overboard after hitting an unexpected stump," warned Ard.
Because of all the debris on the bottom it would have been impossible for the team to dredge the river, authorities said.
"You wouldn't be able to drag a hook for more than 5 minutes without snagging something," Ard explained.
The inclement weather in the area the weekend before Shelley's body was discovered posed a threat to the search team. The rain and melting snow caused water level to rise.
"The divers are fighting very fast currents, the water is cold. They are only able to stay in for about 15-20 minutes at a time," Ard said.
McCullough told WMBF News that the team was using a grid- pattern in the search for the missing boater.
"The divers lay down lines tied to anchors and work their way through each area," McCullough explained.
The rise and set of the sun did not impact search times, the DNR said.
"The water is so dark and murky that once the divers are underwater, it's already dark, regardless of if the sun is out or not, it makes no difference to our divers," McCullough said.
The DNR assured the public throughout the search that they would not stop their efforts to find Shelley until he was recovered.
"We will be out there again tomorrow morning. In fact, we will be out there every single day until this man is found," Ard said earlier during the search.
The DNR did not only search the water throughout their search. They also had a crew combing the hills in case the Shelley was able to make it to shore.
The search for Shelley continues
Tuesday we spoke to the family of Michael Shelley, along with his friends.
His sister, Paula Shelley, explained Michael's disappearance as nerve-wracking.
"He was the type of person who would give the shirt off his back if you needed it, he would help anybody. Pretty much that's how the whole family is, and that's how we are getting through this, "Shelley said, holding back tears as she spoke.
Shelley told WMBF News Michael was in charge of taking care of his mother and they were all hopeful that he would be found, saying ,"God is still in the miracle business = I will put it like that...either way just wanting him home."
Michael Shelley's friends Ted Dimmery and Chip Ellis are just a few of the men who participated in search efforts.
Dimmery said it's unusual for Michael to have an accident on the river, adding that "he stayed in the river day and night. We decided we were going to come find him and bring him home to his mama."
Ellis got his boat into the water to help find Michael on Tuesday, "I don't know what happened, I know he knows the river good enough not to hit a log and be thrown out of the boat, I do know that. I'm think maybe something medical happened and he fell out."
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