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GREEN COUNTY, Ky. (WDRB) - Green County authorities have recovered the bodies of two men first reported missing Friday after failing to return home from a duck hunting trip.
The recovery early Sunday of the second hunter, Larry Stokes, 57, of Somerset, KY, ended a more than two-day search for the men. The body of the first missing hunter was discovered Saturday afternoon. The coroner identified him as 76-year-old Harold D. Wethington of Liberty, Kentucky.
Both men drowned, according to Green County Coroner Carol Ray.
Their deaths are still puzzling to investigators, who say though the water levels were dangerously high, the boat the hunters used was found still operable. Officials say the men were probably returning when something went wrong. It's unclear what happened, Ray said.
"You never know," said Green County Emergency Management director Bill Matney. "So many things can happen, a miscalculation. He had a powerful motor on a relatively small vessel. We don't know, We don't know."
One of the men was wearing a life preserver but it had not been activated, according to Matney. Dozens of volunteers worked over the past two days in the recovery effort. On Saturday, as many as 50 volunteers were working to find the two men.
Matney said the body of Wethington was found five or six miles upstream of Greensburg in Green County. Stokes' body was found ten miles above where the first patient was located, he said.
Officials say Stokes was discovered 9:30 a.m. Sunday about two miles upstream from where the hunters' boat was located. The body was located by property owner Eddie Goff.
"I wanted to go up river," Goff said. "I felt that's probably where we would find them. Mike has the good eyes. He spotted the guy. It was just a pair of shoes sticking out of a trash pile. Or a debris pile, not trash."
Search and rescue officials say the two hunters launched their boat from a Taylor County boat ramp Friday morning.
"The water conditions (on the Green River) were very, very rough," said Capt. Chris Taylor, Campbellsville Fire & Rescue, on Saturday.
Taylor is one of about 50 people who searched the cold waters of Green River for the missing hunters.
The normal water level is five to ten feet. On Friday, the level was 15 to 20 feet.
Taylor told WDRB News it was the highest he's ever seen the river.
"It's out of the banks, where it's usually at. It's out of the banks probably anywhere from 15 to 20 ft. deep," he said.
It wasn't until around 9 p.m. Friday night that authorities were told the hunters hadn't returned home.
"We immediately sent swift water teams out on the river," he said.
The hunters' truck is still at the scene.
Their boat has been given to Kentucky Fish & Wildlife for investigation.
Authorities searched until 3:30 Saturday morning, took a break, and resumed searching at 7 a.m.
They didn't discover Wethington's body until Saturday afternoon. Wethington's body was found more than 20 miles down stream from the boat ramp.
"When the river's flowing that fast, they could be anywhere. There's log jams, strainers and several things that the boat and people could get caught up in," said Taylor.
He says it's an unfortunate reminder of how dangerous outdoor recreation can be.
"You need to check the water conditions before you go out. The water conditions on this part of the river can change from one place to another. Just checking the conditions and wearing a life jacket," he said.