18-year-old drowns in Quemahoning Reservoir

Emergency crews are canvassing the Quemahoning Dam, in Somerset County, after reports of a possible drowning. (WJAC)

CONEMAUGH TOWNSHIP, Pa (WJAC) -- Rescue boats filled the Quemahoning Reservoir, in search of an 18-year-old man who officials say drowned Monday afternoon.

They searched a little under a square mile with side scan sonar, multiple dive teams and drones.

Scalp Level deputy fire Chief David Boyer says it's like looking for a needle in a haystack, and the depth of the water can change drastically as they search.

"We vary from shoreline here, 10, 15 feet of water to 80 feet of water out in the channel, and the channel's a couple hundred feet wide," Boyer said.

That's why he says even though the water is fairly clear, it's tough for divers.

"They get down and they're limited to the amount of time they can work at that depth, because then they have to come up and do decompression stops and everything, and then they only can run two cycles at the most, then we have to put another team in," Boyer said.

Boyer says a group of people were paddle boarding, making it 3/4 of the way across the width of the dam.

He says that's when the man fell off his board, and swam for about three to four minutes until he went under.

Boyer says his friends couldn't find him and went to the closest shore for help, but by the time they called 911, he was already under for about 30 minutes.

A lifejacket on top of a paddleboard sits on the shore where first responders set up command.

Boyer says drownings can happen fast, even for those who know how to swim.

"If you get in a situation for an unknown reason and you start to panic, and then actually when they get into a panic mode, they're trying to make themselves come up to the top, but they're actually making themselves go down," Boyer said.

He says that's why wearing a life jacket is extremely important.

Local crew will start the search again Tuesday morning. They are also calling on specialty teams from the Pittsburgh area for assistance, along with a canine to help in the search.

Plank Road will be shut down again so crews can have a command post.

The recreation area in the reservoir will be open, but could change depending on where the search area expands.

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