Kayaker feared dead on Great Miami River: ‘Never assume that the river is going to be calm’

Officials are reminding people of the power — and subsequent dangers — of the Great Miami River as rescue efforts turned to recovery efforts for a missing kayaker.

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Hamilton firefighters were first called to the river south of the High/Main Street bridge at about 3:10 p.m. Sunday and found one man in the water, clinging to a capsized kayak and calling for help. Another capsized kayak was discovered floating nearby, according to Hamilton firefighters.

A boater on a jet ski was able to retrieve the man in the water, identified by police as Wilbur Strobel, 35.

The other kayaker, identified as Benjamin Gipson, 29, of Cincinnati, remains missing.

“It is a recovery operation at this time,” said Hamilton Fire Chief Mark Mercer.

Sharonda Lewis, Gipson’s sister, stood near the riverbank in the rain for much of Monday.

“The waiting is the worst,” she said.

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Gipson had come the Hamilton to kayak with a co-worker, she said, adding that her brother was “a laborer and strong” and could swim.

But neither of the men was experienced in kayaking, and neither was wearing a life jacket, according to officials.

“People should never assume there is no danger with the river,” Hamilton Deputy Fire Chief Ken Runyan said, noting there are varying depths of the river. “The river has a current that most people can’t see.”

An undertow was making it difficult Monday for crews to keep sonar equipment from being pulled under, he said.

“Never assume that the river is going to be calm,” Runyan said.

The Hamilton Fire Department Water Rescue Team, the Butler County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team, Task Force 1 and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources also have been searching the area with cadaver dogs.

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