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Rescue squads from surrounding counties join the Morgan County Rescue Squad during Tuesday's search for missing Neel resident Jeffery Todd Palmer.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Rescue squads from surrounding counties join the Morgan County Rescue Squad during Tuesday's search for missing Neel resident Jeffery Todd Palmer.

Search continues for missing arrowhead hunter
Searchers drag river;
expectations gloomy

By Seth Burkett 340-2355

A rescue effort shifted to a recovery effort Tuesday as searchers dragged the Tennessee River for some sign of a man missing since Friday.

Jeffery Todd Palmer, 43, of Neel apparently told a friend by cell phone Friday afternoon that he had found a nice arrowhead and was preparing to return home from his arrowhead-hunting expedition on the river, rescue workers said.

Lt. Danny Kelso of the Morgan County Rescue Squad said three days of searching have made rescuers doubtful they will find Palmer alive.

"The chances of him being still on the river and on an island this long without communicating with anyone aren't good," Kelso said.

Searchers found Palmer's kayak, jacket and truck keys in a slough behind the General Electric plant Sunday.

The slough, which runs from Bungee to GE along the south bank, has become the focus of the search.

Kelso said searchers are systematically eliminating areas of the slough but have yet to find further signs of Palmer.

"After we drag a section, we set up a perimeter and move to the next section," Kelso said. "Once we search a section, we'll rule that one out."

Divers sent into the water fared no better.

"We had camera and sonar images of objects of interest underwater," Kelso said. "Myself and a couple of other divers went down, and it turned out to be logs and stumps and stuff like that, nothing of concern."

A state trooper helicopter circled the skies, and dog teams hunted along the banks and islands.

Kelso said searchers found footprints they suspect belonged to Palmer on an island directly behind the GE plant. Palmer, a GE employee, used the company boat launch.

"We're continuing to search," Kelso said. "We have numerous rescue squads out here. The American Red Cross has been so kind to us, and GE has been so kind to us, allowing us any resources that we need."

Kelso said federal game and fish authorities offered searchers tips on arrowhead hunting hotspots in the area.

William "Ski" Szczepanski, the rescue squad's communications captain, said the search began shortly before noon Sunday, about 48 hours after Palmer checked in at the GE guard shack and used the company boat launch.

The search continued throughout the night. Rescuers stopped at 10 p.m. Monday and resumed at 6 a.m. Tuesday.

Rescuers broke for about an hour as a storm passed through Tuesday afternoon.

Szczepanski said the search would probably pause at about 10 p.m. Tuesday and resume Wednesday morning.

Szczepanski said weather conditions, with water temperatures in the 50s, were hard on divers and other rescue workers.

Decatur Fire and Rescue assisted by refilling air bottles for divers.

Challenger Middle School in Huntsville, where Palmer's father teaches seventh grade, and the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church supplied meals for rescue workers, Szczepanski said.

"People don't know how much it means for a diver to get out of water that's 55 degrees and come in here and have a hot meal waiting for them," Szczepanski said. "To the people that are supplying food, we really appreciate it."

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