Paddleboarder’s body found at Rockport Saturday
Search and Rescue crews recovered the body of a missing Layton man Saturday at Rockport State Park, one day after he became separated from his friends while paddleboarding.
At approximately 3:18 p.m. Saturday afternoon, officials found the body of 21-year-old Joshua Merkley on the east side of the lake, according to Summit County Sgt. Ron Bridge.
Multiple agencies were involved in the two-day search, including Search and Rescue crews from Summit and Wasatch counties, the Department of Public Safety, Life Flight and Utah State Parks.
Merkley became separated from his friends while paddleboarding with one other person at approximately 3:11 p.m. Friday afternoon. The pair rented the paddleboards from a business in Salt Lake City and were each given life jackets.
Joe Donnell, Rockport State Park manager, said a microburst came down from the southwest, producing gusts up to 50 miles per hour and two-to-three foot waves possibly knocking Merkley off of his paddleboard, which was found moments later. He was not wearing a life jacket.
"It hit the spot where these two paddleboarders were out," Donnell said. "Visibility was really poor because of all the dust it kicked up and most people think if they fall off they can just swim to their paddleboard. But for some reason, that didn’t happen Friday. Even the best swimmer can’t fight off waves that size."
Summit County Search and Rescue, with assistance from other agencies, converged on the scene and searched the shoreline, while sonar equipment scanned the water. No divers were used in the recovery.
Throughout the incident, state park officials limited recreation access to the lake, restricting boats from entering the water.
The search was suspended late Friday night and resumed early Saturday morning. Markley was found later that afternoon.
Merkley’s is the first paddleboard-related death in the state and first drowning at Rockport since 1995, Donnell said.
According to state law, any device that floats, including tubes and paddleboards, is considered a vessel. law, users are required to have life jackets on board unless within 50 feet of the shore.
Individuals younger than 12 have to be wearing a life jacket at all times, but people older than 13 only have to have it on the vessel.
Donnell said most people strap their life jacket to the paddleboard, but he suggested wearing it.
"If you fall off and get separated from the board and if it’s a really strong wind, your board will move faster than you can swim after it," he said "Just wear a life jacket. It’s a $15 investment that could have saved that young man’s life and the thousands of dollars that were spent on the recovery effort."
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The artist from Vineyard who created the mural traveled to Park City again last weekend to repair it, tweak the image and leave a message for the community on the street.