COCKE COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — Cocke County Swift Water Rescue Team is preparing to join a search to find a man who went missing while going fishing near the state line.
Phillip Shelton, 64, disappeared Saturday, Feb. 18, while canoeing the French Broad River in Madison County, North Carolina. His canoe and personal items were recovered along the riverbank Sunday, according to local emergency response teams.
His dog was found running near where Shelton was known to park his car while canoeing, Madison County officials said in a press release.
“If this gentleman has made it to our county, we will find him,” said Cocke County Emergency Management in a post on Facebook.
Dozens of first responders from Buncombe, Cherokee, Henderson and Madison counties have been searching for Shelton between Marshall, North Carolina and the state line. High water and darkness hampered crews’ ability to search for Shelton until Sunday.
Dallas Burleson, Shelton’s niece, told WATE 6 on Wednesday that more crews are coming to help with search dogs, but nothing else has been found since Shelton’s capsized canoe was recovered
“His boat was found capsized in the Rollins community of Marshall,” Burleson said through social media messages. “We don’t know if he is still in the area or if he could be towards Hot Springs/TN.”
Part of the reason for that confusion is unclear communication on when or if a dam on the river was opened.
“We’ve been told that the dam was opened Saturday night (the day he went missing). We’ve been told it was opened at 8:30 Sunday morning and then we were told it wasn’t opened at all until Monday morning,” Burleson said.
Burleson also said she believes they found the tracks where Shelton’s dog climbed up the bank out of the water.
While crews search the French Broad River on Wednesday, crews on the Tennessee side of the river will be making plans to help. The Cocke County team plans to launch kayaks above the state line on Thursday and conduct a thorough search of the French Broad, the team said.
Anyone living or working near the river are asked to call 911 if they see Shelton, and to remain on location until authorities arrive.
“All of us here at Walnut Fire Department would like to ask our own community to keep a special family in their thoughts and prayers tonight, as well as the crews who may be out working in the coming days. Many of these folks are volunteers, working diligently to provide answers for a family in need,” said Walnut Fire Department wrote on social media post about the search.