A body found in the Allegheny River on Wednesday morning has been identified as the Penn Hills man who went missing on Sunday after falling from a personal watercraft.
Rescue officials confirmed the body of Thomas Duane Uzmack, 40, was found near the Schenley Marina in Gilpin about 9:45 a.m., about 2 1⁄2 miles downriver from where he was last seen.
Uzmack was riding a personal watercraft with a juvenile family friend when, authorities say, he dropped his cell phone into the river.
When Uzmack reached to grab the phone, the watercraft flipped, throwing him and the boy into the water.
The boy was rescued by relatives on a nearby pontoon boat, but Uzmack submerged and was not seen again.
The accident happened about a mile upriver from Murphy’s Bottom in South Buffalo Township.
Randy Brozenick, South Buffalo fire chief, said Uzmack’s body was spotted by Army Corps of Engineers employees performing routine duties on a boat just upriver from the Schenley Marina. The employees were aware of the missing man, but were not part of the search.
When they called 911, Freeport and South Buffalo rescue teams searching the area responded and recovered the body.
Armstrong County Coroner Brian Myers identified Uzmack’s body. The results of an autopsy scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in Pittsburgh were not yet available. Myers said the procedure would include a toxicology screening.
Brozenick praised the rescue personnel who assisted in the search for Uzmack since the incident Sunday afternoon.
“We had rescue personnel from all over the area coming in and donating their time for the search,” Brozenick said. “The scope was tremendous. The biggest relief was providing closure for the family.”
The four-day search effort involved more than 10 agencies from the Alle-Kiski Valley’s four counties. It began within an hour of Uzmack’s disappearance.
Most of it focused on an area near Uzmack’s family’s camp in Gilpin — about 300 yards downriver from where he went under — after search dogs detected a human scent there.
Dive teams took turns scouring the river bed in the area through Monday evening, Brozenick said.
“The divers had been having a lot of issues there,” Brozenick said. “There were sudden drops where the river floor would go from about 20 to 60 feet deep. The visibility was bad and there was a huge tree down there that made them nervous, but that’s where the hits were.”
Rescuers resumed a surface search without divers on Tuesday to no avail. Had Uzmack not been found on Wednesday, Brozenick said, the search would have been pulled back indefinitely.
According to witness reports, Uzmack was wearing a life vest when he flipped the watercraft, but did not have it properly fastened. After he initially went under, Armstrong County Sheriff Bill Rupert said, Uzmack briefly resurfaced with the life vest nearby, but disappeared again under the water.
The life vest was recovered on Sunday near where the incident occurred.
“The river is one of the greatest sources of recreation in Armstrong County, but it can be very unforgiving,” Rupert said. “The protective gear you’re required to wear is to save your life. If there’s a buckle, then buckle it. If there’s a snap, then snap it.
“Nobody knows what would have happened with the vest properly on or off, but they’re designed to prevent tragedies like these.”
An obituary appears on page A4.
Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.