Eyewitness describes moment paddleboarder went under at North Pond
Guy Smallwood was taking a soak in his ground-level hot tub on Sunday when he noticed something stirring on North Pond, as a person was heading to the south end on a paddleboard.
But they weren’t standing or kneeling or even sitting. They didn’t have a paddle. Instead, they were — to the best of Smallwood’s recollection — possibly fully clothed and lying on their chest, butterflying their way down the pond.
“It seemed like they had a jacket,” said Smallwood, a part-time resident of The Ponds at Blue River since 2013. “There was absolutely something around their waist. And they were paddleboarding as if they were trying to catch a wave, like the way a surfer does. I was just watching them. I mean, it was odd.”
The person slowly arrived to a region of the pond about 20 yards from the shoreline and then casually tossed themselves off the board into and under the water, Smallwood said.
“It’s like they just gently rolled off the board,” he said. “I saw it, and I kept my eyes on them, and I waited for them to pop up. When I didn’t see them pop up, I don’t think I let more than 30 seconds go by … and I screamed for Carly to call 911. I remember thinking, ‘There is not a lot of time.’ I knew that we just had minutes.”
As his daughter hurriedly dialed emergency services, Smallwood scrambled to grab his own paddleboard to get out on the pond to try and save the person. If he were a betting man, he said he’d wager it was an adult woman, perhaps in her 20s; but he recognizes after the fact that perhaps the sudden cocktail of adrenaline and panic may have impacted how he remembers the situation.
He yelled for help from a handful of others already on the water, and, quickly, this place of serenity and quiet was overrun with unrestrained commotion after — as Leanne Shaw, one of those who tried to help Smallwood, said — “every cop in Summit County turned up.”
Smallwood, Shaw and her husband, as well as others, attempted to locate the person in the water, and soon, first responders were in the pond as everyone tried to feel around for a human figure. After between 25 or 30 minutes, only the county’s Search & Rescue Group was in the water, and, to this point, still no one has been found in the pond despite significant efforts.
The Smallwoods had left their home on Monday morning in the hopes of avoiding additional reminders of the traumatic situation and the round-the-clock reconnaissance work done by county personnel late the previous night.
Those crews were back and continuing the search by 6 a.m., again with dogs and boat sonar technologies to refine the search.
North Pond was closed on Monday, and, after an afternoon of unfruitful boat sweeps and multiple 30-plus-minute underwater hunts by divers, it will likely be the same as well on Tuesday as efforts persist. The cloudy brown water and thick, soupy vegetation estimated at 5-feet tall in the section being combed has presented a challenge.
“It’s so incredibly murky, so hard to see,” explained Sgt. Misty Higby of the Silverthorne Police Department, “and it can be trying to locate a body. With some of that, it makes it more difficult but not completely unusual for (this length of time) to happen. Sometimes, it’s pretty easy, sometimes it’s trying like this one is. Sometimes it’s so hard to determine how it’s going to happen.”
But the search party remains steadfast and will regroup to start the retrieval process anew Tuesday after shutting it down approaching 7 p.m. on Monday. The operation spokesperson did confirm a paddleboard was recovered from the day of the incident. They also confirmed that a vehicle was towed from the North Pond Park area. However, no missing persons reports have been filed across any of the region’s departments. For the residents of The Ponds at Blue River, the conclusion can’t come soon enough.
“I was in my hot tub,” Smallwood said, jogging his memory again, “and I watched them come down the middle of the lake. I watched them go, I watched the person roll off. It’s kind of surreal, so it’s kind of hard to remember exactly. I just felt like if I could find them, I could be strong enough to bring them up to the surface.”
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