When a boater, kayaker or swimmer goes missing, Rickey Price Jr. enters the water.

Price is a training officer with Cambria County Swift Water Rescue Team, SCUBA diver and water rescue instructor for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. 

He was part of the multi-agency team that searched the Quemahoning Reservoir on July 9 when a Westmoreland County teenager went missing while paddleboarding with friends. 

About 12 members of the Jackson-East Taylor Township Dive Team were called to assist the Shanksville Fire Department Ice and Water Rescue SCUBA Team to search for 18-year-old Joseph Dubics, who was not wearing a life jacket.

“From the time somebody witnesses that person go under and you start the rescue is called ‘golden hour,’ ” Price said. 

The focus at the reservoir then turned to recovery.

“After so long, you may have to switch gears and get pieces of equipment to help in the search,” he said. “Just putting divers in the water is like searching for a needle in a haystack.”

The six-day search ended after rescuers obtained a side scan sonar from Charles County, Virginia, that is used for underwater mapping, Price said.

“Within 10 minutes of the device being in the water, they found him 70 feet down,” he said. “Now you’re able to give (the) family closure.”

Price said residents should prepare for flooding, stay clear of flooded roadways and wear life jackets when on the water.

Why don’t more people wear life jackets?

“That’s what I’d like to know,” he said. “You’d be surprised how many kayakers don’t wear life jackets or just keep them hanging on the kayak.”

The state Fish and Boat Commission is reminding residents that life jackets are required year-round for children younger than 12. 

Boaters are reminded that from Nov. 1 until April 30, they are required to wear life jackets while in motion or at anchor on boats less than 16 feet long or on any canoe or kayak.

Price wants life jackets to be mandatory in all seasons.

“Life jackets save lives,” he said.

Price also is an EMT with West Hills Ambulance, fire captain with West Hills Regional Fire Department, member of the Pennsylvania Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (HART) and East Taylor Township supervisor.

A tragedy on Raystown Lake, Huntingdon County, about seven years ago stands out for Price.

“An 8-year-old boy was jumping off a rock cliff where his family lives,” he said. “He was doing a cannonball when his knee hit his nose, and he never surfaced.”

Price said his team searched 130 feet under the water. Days later the body was recovered.

“Would it have changed the outcome if he had been wearing a life jacket?” he said. “I don’t know. But if he was wearing a life jacket he would have rose to the surface.” 

Motorists should steer clear of flooded roads, he warned.

It only takes 18 to 24 inches of moving water to sweep a vehicle from the road, Price said.

“That happened this year in Colver,” Price said. “A lady drove into flooded water, and her car shut off. 

“All of a sudden, water is coming up over the windows,” he said. “She called 911, and the water team came out and got her out of the vehicle safely.”

The Cambria County Swift Water Recuse Team is completing paperwork necessary for 1A certification by the state Fish and Boat Commission. 

The certification recognizes that the team exceeds standards of staffing, training and life-saving equipment.

It will be only the second water rescue team in Pennsylvania with the certification, Price said.

Patrick Buchnowski is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5061. Follow him on Twitter @PatBuchnowskiTD.

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