CLEARFIELD – A search for a missing 74-year-old Clearfield man, James Coons, has turned into a recovery mission, announced Joe Bigar, director of the Clearfield County Emergency Services Department, at a press briefing Thursday.
Coons was reported missing the evening of March 12 when he didn’t return home from his walk in the Golden Rod area of Lawrence Township. Coons is described as standing 5 feet, 11 inches tall and weighing 175 pounds. Coons was last seen wearing jeans, a brown-colored barn-style jacket and a hat.
According to Bigar, Lawrence Township police responded to search the area of Coons’ home after receiving the missing persons report. Later that evening, police continued their search with assistance from the county’s Emergency Services Department and the Lawrence Township Fire Department.
Also, Bigar said track and trail teams from Elkland Search & Rescue searched by ground and a helicopter from the Pennsylvania State Police by air. During the first evening of the search, he said that three, different tracking dogs followed scent, and not necessarily tracks, to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.
On March 13, Bigar said crews established an organized command center. He said their search for Coons continued with dog and swift water boat teams, as well as with resources from STAT MedEvac and the North West Central Emergency Response Group. At the same time, Bigar said firefighters from numerous departments searched for Coons on foot and by all-terrain vehicle.
He said crews organized another ground search March 15 and then shoreline searches, including the railroad tracks, along the river on March 16. From March 17-19, he said the crews experienced inclement weather and conducted binocular searches along the shores in areas that could be traversed by foot and ATV.
According to Bigar, the search for Coons continued March 25 by foot. On March 27, crews deployed experienced kayak teams, which searched the river in the Moshannon area. Bigar said the kayak teams worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which lowered water levels at the Curwensville Dam to make the river easier to traverse.
On March 29, he said boat teams searched the river with cadaver dogs; swift water boat teams also assisted from Clearfield, Curwensville and Treasure Lake Volunteer Fire Departments. He said the search was primarily contained to a seven-mile stretch of the Susquehanna River between Golden Rod and Shawville.
“One scent was picked up,” said Bigar, adding, “but we couldn’t confirm anything was in the water.”
He said their search for Coons continued March 30 with the Pennsylvania State Police Marine Unit utilizing underwater cameras and sonar in the area of interest on the river between the Interstate 80 Bridge at Clearfield and the Railroad Bridge at the Industrial Park tunnel.
“We found nothing and that was our last [active] attempt in this search,” said Bigar. “We’ve exhausted everything from Shawville up to Golden Rod.” He said the search for Coons is still continuing; however, resources aren’t likely to be deployed by ground, water, etc. unless the county’s Emergency Services Department receives a lead to direct crews to a particular location.
Bigar said at the time of Coons’ disappearance the Susquehanna River was higher than normal and there was also a high snow load. EMA Deputy Director Scott Mignot added that from the onset of the search, there were extremely cold weather conditions and there was heavy snow accumulation, which then melted.
Mignot said that the National Weather Service and gauges showed this area experienced a river flow rate that was five times greater than the previous record. He also said areas along the river were difficult to traverse with massive chunks of ice that were as large as a small truck.
Bigar said his department has alerted the state’s Fish & Boat Commission, workers involved with the construction of the new Shawville Bridge and emergency service agencies as far away as Sunbury. He said Coons’ family plans to distribute missing person signs to canoe, kayak and boat rental businesses in the area.
Bigar would like anyone utilizing the West Branch of the Susquehanna River for recreation to be alert for anything out of the ordinary. He said if anyone observes an article of clothing or a hat, they should contact the Clearfield 911 Center immediately with the information.