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Contact: Eve West, 304-719-6364
Glen Jean, WV – Search and rescue personnel recovered the body of 25-year old Rudolpho “Rudy” Cerda, from Beckley, WV, around 1:30 pm on Monday. National Park Service (NPS) rangers, personnel from West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR), West Virginia State Police (WVSP), Fayette and Raleigh County Sheriff’s Departments, Beckley Police Department, and trained volunteer search and rescue divers from the Beaver Dive Team had been searching for Cerda since Saturday afternoon when he disappeared below the Thurmond area of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
Cerda had been last seen around 3:00 pm on Saturday. He and two other individuals were searching for an access to fish the river when Cerda stumbled and fell down a rocky riverbank and came to rest in the shallows of the water. The two individuals returned to get fishing gear and, upon arriving back to the river, discovered Cerda’s shirt and cell phone onshore close to where he had been sitting. Cerda was not wearing a life jacket and the river was muddy and at above average water levels for early summer.
Park personnel began a hasty search on land and river that afternoon and into the evening, and continued early Sunday morning and into Monday, with other agencies joining on Sunday and Monday. A helicopter search was conducted by WVSP and FCSO on Sunday, and RCSO staff brought in a dog team to assist in a ground search. Local commercial rafting companies were also alerted. The body was discovered Monday afternoon by a commercial rafting company guide below the Cunard river access approximately six miles downriver from where last seen.
“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Mr. Cerda,” said New River Gorge National Park and Preserve Superintendent Lizzie Watts. “Events like this are tragic.”
This is the first drowning in the park this year, serving as a reminder that New River is a high-volume river with swift currents, deep holes, and a rocky bottom. Water levels can change daily and conditions in even familiar areas can change quickly. Personal flotation devices (PFDs), or life jackets, are essential safety items and should be worn anytime people are in or around the water, including in a boat. For more tips on water safety while in the park, visit www.nps.gov/neri/planyourvisit/water-safety.htm.
Last updated: June 15, 2021