Cadaver Dogs and Searchers Still Haven’t Located Missing Southern Humboldt Pilot

As evening settled last night, boatloads of the family and friends of missing pilot, Rex Whitlow, were again dragging the river looking for their loved one. Whitlow went missing May 4 when the Ultralight plane he was piloting crashed near the main stem of the Eel River east of Weott. The close-knit family and their community of friends will continue looking today, Mother’s Day, the 11th day since the crash.

Yesterday, the family was joined by members of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and the Southern Humboldt County Technical Rescue Team (SHCTRT).

“Dragging for the body is tedious and heart-wrenching,” Diana Totten, a volunteer with SHCTRT explained.

She described what happened during the search on Saturday for us:

[S]ince the small plane crash into the river near MaCann on May 4th, private and agency search teams have been searching the waters near the plane crash site as well as several miles downstream…[Yesterday] we were able to get search dogs from Del Norte County…These dogs are specially trained cadaver dogs that can work water search.

Dog handler and cadaver dog on the water

Peggy, the cadaver dog handler, and one of her dogs on the river searching for the missing pilot yesterday. [Photo provided by the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and the Southern Humboldt County Technical Rescue Team]

We started with one dog on the sheriff boat with his handler….drifting slowly from the crash site downstream, at a certain area about a mile from the crash site the dog was alerting. This alert was [on] an area of about 1/4 mile…[The handler and dog were] unable to get a smaller area narrowed down.We went to the camp and got the second dog and tried the same drift and at the same general area the second dog alerted.This gave hope to searchers as to have a general location…The water is about 10-12 feet deep at this stretch of the river.

Totten said that a diver with tanks, a friend of the Whitlow’s, went into the river there but she said, “[W]ith the swiftness and murky water, it was impossible to see more than 12 inches.” Eventually, Totten said the team had to leave. But she explained that the search is still considered to be ongoing and will continue. At this point, the Sheriff’s Department and SHCTRT is looking for clearer water. The murky water from the snow melt and wet spring weather has impeded their search.

“[O]ur hope is for clear water with a little more visibility,” Totten said. “[O]ur hearts go out to the family and we will be going back as conditions dictate.”

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10 comments

  • condolences to all involved, Rex will be missed, hug your loved ones and don’t forget to tell your mom you love her and happy Mother’s Day

  • The Leggett bicyclist is apparently still not found, as well (?).

  • The only place they havent looked is up in the trees .my utmost regards to the willow family .I hope they get closure very soon the not knowing is the worst part of it I’m sure for the family best of luck in locating your loved one

    • it sounds like he was probably unconscious on impact and being weighed down with clothes and boots swept down stream. Sorry to all involved I hope he found soon so the family can have some closure.

  • Thoughts and prayers are with the Witlow family.

  • My condolences to my long lost cousins the Whitlows. I hope to meet one day. Lynn

  • Why aren’t there search planes looking for parachutes stuck in trees?
    I appreciate and value all searches so far, don’t get me wrong. But come on!

  • My thoughts and prayers are with the family that they find him🕊

  • This whole situation has been heartbreaking. But after many days and countless hours of searching, they did find Rex. Yesterday afternoon. May 14th.

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