New Brunswick

Fredericton family abandons search for body of missing kayaker

The family of a Fredericton-area kayaker who went missing nearly three years ago unsuccessfully excavated along the riverbed Friday in hopes of finding his body.

Jim Vanderfluit, 50, last seen in October 2009

The family of a Fredericton-area kayaker who went missing nearly three years ago unsuccessfully excavated along the riverbed Friday in hopes of finding his body.

Jim Vanderfluit, 50, was last seen the morning of Oct. 8, 2009.

He was heading to his dock, located on the bank of the Nashwaak River, near where it flows into the St. John River, to take his kayak in for the winter and deal with a log jammed against the dock.

An exhaustive air, water and ground search at the time failed to locate him.

Vanderfluit's family hired a firm to continue the search and on Friday, they were using human remains detector dogs and an excavator to try to find him — and to find closure.

But the search turned up empty.

Jim Vanderfluit, 50, was last seen heading to the Nashwaak River. (Courtesy of Vanderfluit family)

His family says it was likely their last chance to find any trace of him.

"This is probably our last big effort, this dig," his niece, Carolyn Flanagan, told CBC News. "The dogs indicate there's human remains there, or the smell, or he was there.

"If we don't find anything today, I don't know what else we'll … what other step … maybe we didn't look beyond that. I guess we'll take it one step at a time."

The family has already had Vanderfluit legally declared dead. But they haven't been able to hold a funeral for him because they have no remains to bury.

When Vanderfluit went missing, police had said that the current on the Nashwaak River was running swiftly and it was possible he was swept away, perhaps even carried out into the St. John River.

The Maine-based company hired by his family believes Vanderfluit's body was swept away to an area that later collapsed.

The dogs detected signs that could have come from Vanderfluit on a bend in the river, downstream from his home, said Deborah Palman, a retired forensic expert from Maine and trainer of human remains detection dogs.

Heavy equipment dug up the bank and Vanderfluit's family was sorting through bucket loads of clay, looking for any sign of the missing kayaker.

"If the body washed out of the bank, the only thing left there might be some hair or something very small like that. If we can find that, that'll be a big help. You know, that'll be a piece of the remains," Palman said.

Exhaustive search

In 2009, York-Sunbury Search and Rescue, the police dive team and volunteer kayakers searched almost five kilometres of shoreline along the Nashwaak River.

The Fredericton Police and Oromocto fire boats also combed the islands and banks of the St. John River, while a helicopter searched overhead.

All the search crews found at the time was the lock and key Vanderfluit used to secure his kayak to his dock.

The search was called off the following night, hampered by heavy rains that had increased the river levels and the murkiness of the water.

It resumed Oct. 21 after another kayaker found Vanderfluit's kayak, but his body was never found.

Vanderfluit, a roofer, was "loved by everybody," Carolyn Flanagan had said.