COLUMBIA — Rescue crews recovered the body of a St. Louis man who drowned in the Missouri River near Cooper's Landing on Monday evening.
The 18-year-old's body was found 20 feet below the water near the spot where he originally slipped into the river at the mouth of Perche Creek, nearly a mile upstream of Cooper's Landing.
He was identified as Andrew Williams of St. Louis by his uncle Merril Jackson.
The Boone County Fire Protection District first received a report of the victim’s disappearance from his uncle and a cousin at 2:19 p.m. Monday, and rescue crews arrived on the scene at 2:42 p.m., Fire District spokesman Gale Blomenkamp said.
They were joined by the Missouri State Highway Patrol shortly after 3 p.m.
Fire District rescuers found Williams' body at 5:32 p.m.
Williams went to Perche Creek for the first time Monday with his uncle and his 13-year-old cousin Randy Jackson. The group intended to fish and play with their dogs, Lady Chopper and Door, Randy said.
Williams was playing in the water with the dogs when he came too close to the drop-off, took a misstep and slipped into deeper water, Randy said. Williams did not know how to swim.
Williams' uncle and cousin formed a human chain and tried to grab him as he began to bob up and down in the water, said Sgt. Jerry Callahan of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
His younger cousin was able to grab Williams once and attempted to pull him up. He then tried a second time, but Williams slipped away from his grasp and went under for the last time, Randy said.
The witnesses called emergency services and continued to search along the riverbank. The Fire District dispatched two boats upon arriving at the scene, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol later dispatched another boat.
It took the Fire District three hours to find Williams. In the end, he was found by use of the dragging method, which uses an underwater bar with hooks to snag clothing, Callahan said.
The body was found quickly because the witnesses reported the event immediately and provided the location, Callahan said. A slow water current speed also helped in recovering the victim's body, said Capt. Chris Swisher of the Fire District.
The St. Louis man had just arrived in Columbia a few days ago to spend the summer with Jackson, who had not seen him in years. His cousin Randy arrived Sunday to join them.
The two wanted to work during the summer and escape the crime of their neighborhood back home, Randy said.
"We had a whole plan to get out," Randy said. "But we can’t do that no more."
Randy said he looked up to his older cousin and called him by the nickname "Man-Man."
"Everybody is going to miss him," Randy said. "He was a good kid. He didn’t do nothing bad at all. He actually taught me a lot of stuff. He taught me what I know now."
Williams recently graduated high school and thought about pursuing a football career.
"Why is it always the good that always die?" Randy said.
Randy, who also is an inexperienced swimmer, said he felt some fault for his cousin's death. The highway patrol told him otherwise.
"We have explained to them that this could have been worse than what had happened," Callahan said. "They did everything they could."
Callahan said that having a life jacket or some other type of flotation protection is imperative when one is around water with rapidly changing depths.