Batesville Man Missing On White River

BATESVILLE (KAIT) - A man is missing and feared drowned in Idependence county. The search continues for 26-year-old Heath Baird of Batesville, a maintenance worker at lock number two just North of Batesville who went missing Tuesday around noon.

Around lunchtime was the last time that Tom Belford saw his coworker and friend Heath Baird.

Belford, "I was putting the truck up and I seen him standing, winding up rope and I got to the truck, shut off everything and I looked back and he was gone."

They had been trying to clean debris from the intake portion of the power plant at lock 2 near Batesville.  When Belford was unable to locate Baird in or around the plant he called for help.

Belford, "Called John real quick and told him I've just started the unit back up and I cannot find Heath. I'm shutting it down now and I need you to come up here. And then he came and we've been searching ever since.

Law enforcement and resuce personnel quickly arrived and began the search.

Independence County Sheriff Keith Bowers, "We made a quick search of the area up and down the river to make sure that he might not have went down river and got out on the bank somewhere. When that didn't reveal anything of course we knew we had to step up the search."

Assisting in the search is the Arkansas Game and Fish dive team, the Conway Fire Department dive team, the Batesville Fire Department divers and other law enforcement and emergency personnel.

Bowers, "Mainly this morning has been diving, searching and ruling out certain areas around the dam and hydro project here."

By mid-morning divers had concluded their search of the intake and outflow of the generator plant. They moved farther out in the river to conduct a grid search of the bottom.

The divers are equipped with dry suits and spend about thirty minutes apiece in the water.

Cpl. Todd Smith, Ar. Game and Fish Rescue Diver, "We have good visibility at the bottom. I would say anywhere between four and six feet. Current is definately hard to deal with the currents and the cold temperatures.

Besides the low temperatures the divers have to deal with the strong river current although the flow has been dropped by closing up the dam at Lake Norfork but that takes 24 hours to signifigantly lower the river level.

Smith, "You're tied to a line, that's your lifeline, the currents pushing against you so you either gonna go downstream or you're going to the bottom. "

Belford, "He was a real good swimmer but this waters pretty cold. But as far as a good person he was a real good man.

Mr. Baird has worked on these plants for over a year and sadly he leaves behind a wife and 2 children.