Originally created 05/26/01

Divers look for teacher's body in lake



Divers plan to return to Lake Thurmond today to continue their exhaustive search for the body of a college professor from Illinois who is said to have drowned Thursday while swimming with friends.

Authorities said Joseph S. Yeh, 30, was sailing with his girlfriend and another friend at about 5 p.m. Thursday when the trio jumped off the boat to swim. The sailboat drifted away, and the three were unable to swim fast enough to catch it. The victim's girlfriend, Rebecca Vail Hanson, swam to a beach area while the other two men began swimming to a nearby island.

Carl Edwin Purdy, 40, of Lincolnton, Ga., made it to the island located about 150 yards from land at the Fort Gordon Recreation Area. Mr. Yeh did not reach the island.

Divers from Columbia County searched until nightfall Thursday and returned Friday with the help of McDuffie County volunteers. The search was concentrated over a large area because the survivors could not tell authorities precisely where Mr. Yeh went under, according to Pam Tucker, the Columbia County Emergency Services director.

"That makes it a worst-case scenario for a dive like this. We just don't have a good witness location of where the victim went down," she said.

Visibility under water was less than three feet for two teams searching the lake Friday, said Danny Kuhlman, operations supervisor with the Columbia County Emergency Services Dive Team. In the afternoon, divers began using an underwater camera that transmits an image to a monitor on a pontoon boat.

Mr. Yeh, an assistant professor of philosophy at Lake Forest College, had made his annual summertime trek to the Augusta area, where his father and brother live.

Mr. Yeh's father, Stephen, of Martinez, said his son made regular visits every summer after completing his teaching work. Mr. Yeh said his son had plans to marry Ms. Hanson next year.

David Yeh, of Augusta, the victim's brother, said his brother was well-loved, especially at the college, where he had a large following of students.

"My brother had so much to offer this world and he died in a tragic accident," he said. "He had nothing but love for everybody."

Tips to prevent drownings

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following tips to prevent drownings:

Whenever young children are swimming, playing or bathing in water, make sure an adult is constantly watching them.

Never swim alone or in unsupervised places. Teach children to always swim with a buddy.

Never drink alcohol during or just before swimming, boating or water skiing.

Learn to swim.

Learn CPR, especially if you are a pool owner or someone who regularly participates in water recreation.

Check the water depth before entering. The American Red Cross recommends 9 feet as a minimum depth for diving or jumping.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.