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Search dives end for man who fell off Lake Norman charter boat

Recovery divers have called off their search for the body of Matthew Bell, 33, of Charlotte, who fell into Lake Norman off the Ragin’ Mistress charter boat Sept. 1.

Divers searched a three-quarter-mile stretch of the lake for several days, Charlotte-Mecklenburg lake patrol Officer Randy Echerd told the Lake Norman Marine Commission on Monday night.

The search put divers at risk because of the 85- to 90-foot depths where Bell fell in, Charlotte-Mecklenburg lake patrol Officer Doug Lambert said. Visibility is zero at those depths, and sonar also failed to locate Bell’s body, Lambert said.

Police and recovery crews will continue to monitor the lake, Lambert said.

Bell was among 103 passengers and six crew members aboard the boat, officials said.

Two representatives of the company that runs the charter declined comment outside the Hickory Tavern off Interstate 77 Exit 18 in Charlotte on Sunday, before they boarded passengers onto buses for the company’s weekly Sunday Funday excursion on the lake.

The company — Luxury Yacht Charters — didn’t return media phone calls last week “out of respect” for Bell’s family but intends to release a statement this week, the representatives told the Observer.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is in charge of the investigation into how Bell fell off the boat and whether safety procedures were followed by the boat’s operator. The commission leads investigations of deaths on the state’s waterways and has released few details about the incident.

In other recent drownings:

•  Craig Vanderhall, 19, of Concord drowned Sunday afternoon while swimming at Badin Lake, according to the Stanly County Sheriff’s Office. His body was found by rescue personnel a short time after he disappeared, investigators said. The sheriff’s office said Vanderhall was swimming with friends at the Old Whitney train trestle, near the end of Pump House Road. That is north of Badin, in the northwest part of the lake.

Witnesses told deputies that Vanderhall jumped from the trestle into the lake and was swimming back to shore when he disappeared.

•  The body of a second fisherman involved in a Fort Mill lake drowning Thursday night was recovered and identified Saturday as John Wilson, 62, of Charlotte.

He was found in Lake Haigler, located at the Anne Springs Close Greenway, said Capt. Robert McCullough, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

The fishing boat overturned Thursday night before dark, and on Friday searchers found Joseph Jeter, 67, of Rock Hill.

Although the investigation into how the boat overturned remains ongoing, it appears to be accidental and there has been no determination of any foul play so far, McCullough said.

•  Christian Geovani Renderos Helena, 31, of Uniondale, N.Y., drowned Aug. 31 in Lake Norman’s Davidson Cove. He was partying with five friends when he jumped off for a swim. Friends got into the water and brought him back onto the boat the first time he jumped, said Officer Justin Stout of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

Helena then jumped off again and drifted too far for his friends to reach him with ropes they tossed toward him, including a rope with a full beer bottle they’d attached for weight, Stout said.

Everyone on the 19-foot, 1985 Galaxy runabout was intoxicated, Stout said, according to alcohol tests and witnesses’ statements. Two were charged with operating while impaired.

Staff Writers Steve Lyttle and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed. Marusak: 704-987-3670; Twitter: @ jmarusak.
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