Lansing, MI -(AmmoLand.com)- Nearly six months after he disappeared while fishing, the body of a Saginaw County man was pulled from the choppy waters of Lake George Thursday afternoon, east of Sault Ste. Marie.
The body of William Kenyon Wenzel, 52, of Merrill was positively identified Thursday by a family member.
Wenzel had been reported missing Nov. 27 after he had gone fishing alone in a boat on Lake George. Chippewa County Sheriff’s deputies said there were high winds and waves that day and it was suspected Wenzel had fallen overboard.
During initial search efforts, Wenzel’s small fishing boat was recovered, but there was no sign of the fisherman. The 40-square-mile lake is part of Lake Huron, situated between the east side of Sugar Island and Ontario, Canada.
For several days afterward, sheriff’s deputies, U.S. Coast Guard and divers from the Michigan State Police Underwater Recovery Unit searched the area with no success.
Since Wenzel’s disappearance, his brother, Craig Wenzel, had continued to travel the lake on days off work to continue searching.
The small village where William Wenzel lived is home to fewer than 1,000 residents, situated west of Saginaw and southeast of Mount Pleasant.
Deputies said that at about 12:20 p.m. Thursday, family and friends were at the lake, walking a deserted shoreline near Rock Island, when Craig Wenzel discovered something floating in the water.
He had no cellphone service, but used a marine radio to contact Coast Guard personnel, who contacted police.
About an hour later, Michigan conservation officer Jeffrey Panich was contacted by Central Dispatch. He headed to Lake George along with fellow DNR conservation officer Brett Gustafson.
Leaving out of the Charles T. Harvey Marina in Sault Ste. Marie, Gustafson, DNR forester Josh Brinks and sheriff’s marine deputy Kip Moeggenborg traveled in a 25-foot Secure All-around Flotation Equipped (SAFE) boat.
Panich made the trip in a smaller, 14-foot open boat for shallow water operation.
Rock Island is located in the southern part of Lake George, north of Indian Point and Duck and Advance islands.
Once at the scene, Brinks and Moeggenborg joined Panich in the smaller vessel. Panich and Brinks, who were wearing waders, entered the water and completed recovery of the body.
Panich said Wenzel’s body was situated in a marshy area, floating in water about a foot deep, about 5 feet offshore.
“He was located west of Rock Island and east of Sugar Island,” Panich said. “The body was only about 100 yards from where the boat was found.”
Panich said water quality gets brown and murky in that area when the lake is churned up by wind and waves. Thursday’s weather was rough, too, with gusting winds, choppy, rolling waves and rain showers.
With rocks concealed beneath the shallow waters, the larger boat was forced to wait in the river channel about a mile away.
Wenzel’s body was transferred from the small boat to the larger vessel for the 13-mile return trip to the marina.
Once back in Sault Ste. Marie, the body was moved to a waiting hearse, at the direction of the county medical examiner, having been positively identified by Craig Wenzel.
Panich said the body recovery operation took about six hours.
Sheriff’s deputies said the investigation is now closed, pending autopsy results, as it appears Wenzel died from an accidental drowning.
The Wenzel family thanked all the law enforcement officers involved and local friends and family for their efforts and support, deputies said.
Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned state peace officers who provide natural resources protection, ensure recreational safety and protect citizens by providing general law enforcement duties and lifesaving operations in the communities they serve.
Find out more about Michigan conservation officers.
About the Michigan Department of Natural Resources:
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations.
For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/dnr.