By Joe Wiercinski
Herald Staff Writer
NEW HAMBURG —
The man whose canoe capsized in the Shenango River made sure his daughter and her mother reached the bank safely before he sank beneath the surface of the cold, fast-flowing current.
The accident just before 6 p.m. Wednesday near New Hamburg brought rescuers and equipment looking for Eric Metz, 47, of 504 Crestview Drive, Transfer, in what so far has been an unsuccessful search.
Firefighters and police as well as relatives and friends searched until dark both Wednesday and Thursday without finding the missing man.
“This is now a recovery,” Phil Steele, chief of Transfer Volunteer Fire Department, said Thursday.
He has been directing the operation that at times included a team of scuba divers, searchers walking about three miles on both riverbanks, a hovercraft, all-terrain vehicles, boats, canoes and kayaks and a helicopter.
“We have covered both banks and the river all the way to Big Bend,” Steele said. “We found no trace of him at all, no clothes, nothing.”
He described Metz as an outdoorsman who was familiar with the river and who had taken his daughter and ex-wife canoeing during the warm late afternoon.
“It capsized about a quarter-mile north of Hamburg bridge,” Steele said. “The daughter and the dad pushed the mother onto the bank after the canoe flipped over. Then the dad pushed the daughter onto the bank but he didn’t make it out himself. He went down and never came back up.”
The survivors, whom Steele didn’t name, called for help.
The recovery crew working Thursday included divers from Transfer and divers and search dogs from Greensburg, Westmoreland County, whom Steele asked to help with the search.
Some of Metz’s relatives and friends, working with rangers from Shenango River Lake, walked the banks of the river while employees of the state Fish and Boat Commission and other volunteers searched the river.
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources closed flood gates Wednesday at Pymatuning Dam which by Thursday had lowered the water level in the river.
Any decision whether to continue the search today will depend on what divers tell him, Steele said Thursday.
“The search may be over for now whether we find him or not,” he said. “We have covered the route and I don’t know where else to search.”
Assisting at the scene were firefighters from Hermitage, Clark, Jamestown and Patagonia and employees of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Pennsylvania State Police.