By Jim Heasley & Patrick Shuster
Monday, December 3, 2007
BURRELL - The search for missing hunter Patrick Fitzgerald was
officially called off Sunday, when search crews were able to find
his canoe, but not him, in Crooked Creek Lake.
After five days of searching, organizers were ready to call off
their search Saturday afternoon until crews using underwater camera
and sonar equipment located the canoe and other personal items from
A limited number of crews did go back out yesterday, hoping to
locate Fitzgerald's body in the same area as the canoe, but after a
sixth full day, called off the search indefinitely when they were
unable to locate him.
Search crews have been scanning Crooked Creek Lake and the
surrounding areas for Patrick M. Fitzgerald, 46, of Hancock Avenue,
Allegheny Township, who went missing Tuesday.
Saturday's find came after more than 200 volunteers came out to
search the nearly 500-acre lake and surrounding terrain.
As crews were returning to the township fire hall, used as the
command post, around 5 p.m. Saturday, it was reported that boat
crews using sonar and underwater camera equipment had found
something submerged in the lake about a half-mile upstream from
Robbs Fording Road, where Fitzgerald had launched his canoe just
before 7 a.m. Tuesday.
By 8 p.m. Saturday, more than 12 hours after the search crews
began scouring the area around the lake, family members confirmed
that searchers had, in fact found Fitzgerald's canoe and various
Fitzgerald, an experienced hunter, was known to launch his canoe
and travel upstream from the launching point to hunt in remote areas
around the lake and had contacted his mother when he arrived at the
launch point Tuesday morning.
The phone call was the last time he had been heard from and when
crews began a search 12 hours later, the only signs of Fitzgerald
were his truck and trailer, parked along Robbs Fording Road.
Craig Davis, assistant Burrell Township fire chief, said that
while finding the canoe was an important discovery, it was not
considered a victory for search crews.
"Obviously, finding him was the goal, but we were able to at
least locate his canoe and other items that belonged to him," Davis
said. "We did all we could do and for now, there isn't much more
than can be done."
While not a victory, Davis said finding the canoe made the
tireless efforts of searchers worthwhile.
"Everyone who helped can have the satisfaction of knowing that
they have helped this family come to some level of closure," he
The tiny Burrell Township fire hall, located in a rural area near
Crooked Creek Lake, was bustling with activity long before sunrise
Saturday morning as search crews from local fire departments, canine
search and rescue teams, state police, the state Fish Commission,
the Army Corps of Engineers, local neighbors, and even Fitzgerald's
coworkers at Medrad Inc. in O'Hara Township, filed into the parking
Crews were placed into teams and given maps of specific areas to
be searched. At the height of the search, more than 130 searchers
were in the field at one time.
"Every single person who came out worked to their full potential
and we were able to cover a large area very thoroughly," Davis said.
"We had no reports of any injuries and everyone who went out, came
Members of the fire department's ladies auxiliary were busy
throughout the week, proving hot coffee, doughnuts, fruits and
snacks to search crews. Crews were treated to a spaghetti dinner
throughout the day Saturday.
Family members, who wished not to be identified, commented
numerous times that they were amazed with the turnout of the
volunteers, some who came from as far away as Virginia and
Family members spent both days at the fire hall, talking with
search crews and waiting for any news from search leaders.