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Sunday, Dec 21, 2014

New Tampa man's body finally recovered after fatal rafting trip

BY JOSÉ PATIÑO GIRONA
Tribune staff

Published:

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TAMPA - The body of a New Tampa man who died during a whitewater rafting tour in South Carolina was finally recovered on Friday, 17 days after the fatal accident.

Thomas Hill's body will be taken to a medical examiner's office and then returned to his family in New Tampa, said Michelle Burnett, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman.

"It's a relief," Burnett said. "When I first got the news, I thought of the Hill family."

The recovery effort had been going on for two and a half weeks, but torrential rain and the high flows of the Chattooga River made it difficult for the recovery crews to locate him and recover his body, Burnett said.

Hill, a sales manager for Sherwin-Williams, was on a company retreat during which about 120 company employees participated in a June 19 whitewater rafting tour led by Southeastern Expeditions.

The U.S. Forest Service cleared the guides from Southeastern Expeditions to raft down the river. When the raft of six people neared a section of the rapids known as Sock-em Dog, Hill and three other people were knocked out of the raft during the rough trip.

Hill, 51, was trapped in an undercurrent and never resurfaced.

Crews located Hill's body on June 20, the day after the accident. However, bad weather forced recovery crews to try to recover his body on June 21. When the crews got there, the river's current had moved the body, Burnett said.

The rescue team used search dogs, underwater cameras, helicopters and firefighters to help in the search. Crews spent nearly 6,000 hours in the recovery effort. The crews would begin their search from Lake Tugaloo and travel up river, Burnett said.

Hill's body was spotted again on Monday but rescue workers weren't able to retrieve the body until 11:30 a.m. Friday.

Hill had worked for Sherwin-Williams for 27 years. On Friday, Sherwin-Williams issued a statement thanking the recovery crews for their commitment to recovering Hill's body.

"Your hard work, the long hours away from your families, and your concern and prayers mean so much to Tom's family and to our Sherwin-Williams' family," the statement read. "You have our deepest respect and gratitude."

"Our hearts go out to Tom's family, his wife Linda and their four children," Sherwin-Williams said in the statement. "We know this is a very difficult time for them. We offer our condolences and prayers during their time of mourning."

Hill's family couldn't be reached for comment.

jpatino@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7659

Twitter: @jpatinoTBO

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