Kelsey Starling was involved in a July 4 boat crash but recovery efforts had, until Oct. 5, turned up empty-handed.
Officials with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s Marine Patrol Division (ALEA) were cited by ABC as saying that the 26-year-old Birmingham woman’s body was found Saturday near the site of the crash.
Divers from Houston County Rescue Squad found Starling’s body in Smith Lake about 140 feet under the surface, WKRG reported.
Rescue efforts had been hampered by the presence of an underwater forest, ALEA said, with timbers rising as high as 120 feet from the bottom of the man-made lake.
“It’s like looking at a forest in the winter time. There’s no leaves on it but that’s how thick it is,” said ALEA Marine Patrol’s Corporal Pat Welton in July, AL.com reported. “Below 70 feet it’s like going into a closet at night and turning the light off.”
Her father, Alton Starling, told AL.com before the body was positively identified that “there is a high probability it is Kelsey based on the location. These divers never gave up.”
Several hours later, he said family members on the scene identified the body as belonging to his daughter.
Starling’s sister, Megan, took to Facebook to announce the news of the recovery.
“The search for my sister, Kelsey, has weighed on our hearts every moment since July 4th, 2019. We all needed closure. Thanks to God’s good and perfect timing, we received that peace tonight,” she wrote.
“My father and I cannot express how grateful we are to every member of that dive team, every family that housed and fed them, the countless number of volunteers who gave freely of their time, the medics, and Nell Parks Haley, who has kept so many people updated on this horrible tragedy.”
“This equipment will greatly enhance the recovery and keep the divers as safe as possible,” Claire Hailey wrote on the campaign page. “In honor of Kelsey, this equipment will be available in Alabama to assist other families in a quicker recovery of their loved ones.”
Starling’s sister thanked people for their support and asked for privacy.
“Thank you to the countless number of you that have prayed with us. We ask that you respect our privacy as we deal with this new aspect of our loss. Keep praying. But this time, let it be prayers of celebration. Kelsey is home.”
Starling was a passenger in a wakeboard that was involved in a collision at around 10 p.m. on July 4, in which four other passengers were injured, AL.com reported.
The other vessel was a pontoon boat reportedly operated by 50-year-old Jodi Wallace Suggs, who along with her husband, Nick Suggs, were charged with criminally negligent homicide.
Both have pleaded not guilty.