Teenager recovered from Lake Seminole after duck hunting accident

Published 3:27 pm Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Matthew Jernigan, 17, was recovered from the Chattahoochee River in Seminole County Tuesday afternoon after he fell into the water while duck hunting with two other teenagers earlier that morning.

Jernigan, a junior at Southwest Georgia Academy, Payson Trawick and Thomas Vines were reaching for a duck early Tuesday morning when their boat allegedly filled with water and sank. Trawick and Vines swam to a nearby island using a bag of decoys. They were later rescued and transported to a hospital.

Jernigan managed to grab hold of a gas tank to float on in the 45-degree water, but was unable to swim to land before sinking.

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“He probably didn’t realize what the exposure to the cold water would do to him,” Seminole County Sheriff Heath Elliot said about the muscle-shocking effects freezing water has on the body. “They later recovered him not far from where he was floating.”

After hours of extensive searching by Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Seminole County and Jackson County Sheriff’s Offices and numerous volunteers, the operation was switched to recovery mode. At that point, all they had found was a boot, a flashlight, a jacket and the gas tank Jernigan floated on.

Georgia DNR used sonar to locate the sunken vessel and Jernigan’s body underwater.

“We got a body drag to hook his clothing and we were able to pull him out of the water,” Sgt. Rick Sellars of Georgia DNR said.

Jernigan’s body was recovered at 5 p.m.

Originally, it was thought that Jernigan’s waders filled with water and pulled him underwater. However, when his body was recovered, he wasn’t wearing waders. Sellars said that Jernigan probably went numb from hypothermia and couldn’t hold on to the gas tank any longer.

“In the cold water and with the cold air, you lose feeling in your arms and legs,” Sellars said.

Elliot said it was important to be extra careful while duck hunting in cold weather from a boat.

“I don’t recall anyone we’ve recovered out of the lake wearing a life jacket,” Elliot said. “Anyone out on the water should have some kind of flotation device.”