The search utilized sonar and a remote underwater vehicle, but no body was recovered.
The Sublette County Sheriff’s announced on Friday that crews are suspending their search for a local man who went missing on Aug. 24.
“After over two weeks of searching for missing Pinedale man, Rick De Ruiter Zylker, Tip Top Search and Rescue (TTSAR) has been unsuccessful in recovering his body,” the sheriff’s office said.
The Sublette County dispatch received a call on the afternoon of Aug. 24 via a GPS emergency help device, notifying them of a possible drowning near Moosehead Bay on Fremont Lake north of Pinedale.
The sheriff’s office and Tip Top Search and Rescue responded to the Upper Fremont Lake boat dock, where they interviewed witnesses who stated that Richard De Ruiter Zylker, 52, of Pinedale, was out with a large group. He went underwater and never resurfaced.
The search has continued in the days since, with rain and wind making the lake surface rough and hampering the early efforts. There were a number of challenges with the underwater terrain and water depths as well.
Search crews aboard the Tip Top boat “Closure” used side-scan radar, as well as an underwater remote operated vehicle.
Dive teams haven’t been utilized, according to the sheriff office, due to the depth of the water in the search area, which ranges from 150 to 300 feet. At more than 600 feet-deep, Fremont Lake is the deepest lake in Wyoming and the 7th deepest lake in the country.
“Even 7,000 feet above sea level the pressures at that depth are well over 100 pounds per square inch (psi). Recreational divers normally don’t exceed 130 feet, as going deeper would require decompression,” one post explained.
Temperatures at the target depth of the search are in the 30s, with zero visibility. This made the remote vehicle ideal for the operations.
The searchers reached out to professional dive crews with experience in underwater recovery.
“Those we have spoken with are willing to help but feel they will have the same challenges our crew has been faced with,” authorities said.
When the search resumes, they are looking at deploying LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology, which is used in underwater mapping though never for drowning recovery.
The announcement on the search suspension said crews needed time to spend with their families and “tend to some things at home,” but they plan to resume the search in a week or two.
“While we can’t definitively say Mr. Zylker’s body will never return to the surface on its own, the likelihood of this occurring at the depth, pressures at that depth, and temperatures at that depth in Fremont Lake is very unlikely,” the announcement said.
The sheriff’s office thanked Zylker’s family and the community for all the help they provided during the search. The office said it will continue to post updates when the search resumes.