WASHINGTON, Mo. — When Kenny Lee Loudermilk crashed a vehicle five or six years ago, his family said he was tempted to at least spend the insurance money on a new accessory and a new engine that attach themselves to your back.
Paragliding was his new hobby, and he was into it. The Missouri River was one of his favorite routes, especially with the fall colors.
“He often went above water,” said his daughter Kylie, 15.
She was one of a group of more than a dozen families and friends gathered here Saturday near a boat launch, hoping Loudermilk’s body would soon be found. He is presumed dead since crashing into the river on Wednesday evening.
Loudermilk, 35, of O’Fallon, Missouri, had taken off from a farm field in Defiance. He and a friend, flying separately, were heading towards Hermann.
“They were going to follow the river,” said Lauren Twyford, Loudermilk’s girlfriend, who dropped him off and was going to pick him up at the landing spot. “He was absolutely passionate about the landscape and the sunset and all that.”
He and his friend lost contact somewhere in the flight, and something went wrong when Loudermilk approached Washington. Witnesses told police they saw a paraglider hit the river just below the Route 67 bridge.
Missouri Highway Patrol Cpl. Dallas Thompson said he received the call around 5:45 p.m. Wednesday.
“We are still actively searching for the individual’s body,” Thompson said Saturday. “We know he went in the water, underwater, and never surfaced.”
Thompson said the patrol had a crew searching the surface of the river and using sonar equipment.
“They’re just going to have to keep looking as the days pass and hope it comes to the surface,” he said. “With the water temperature, it could take a few days for that to happen.”
Many more have volunteered to help, including some of Loudermilk’s co-workers from Local 562, a union of plumbers and pipefitters. It was unclear from search groups whether Loudermilk’s body sank near where it crashed or was washed downstream. A researcher on Saturday said the water was flowing at 6 mph.
The family said Loudermilk flew with a backpack-mounted motor and prop, hitched to an orange and black wing above him that looked like a rectangular parachute. They said he was wearing a black helmet and jacket, blue jeans and work boots.
They said Loudermilk had many flying hours in Missouri and other parts of the country, and had known people who had been in fatal accidents.
“He lives on a knife edge, but things scare him,” said his mother, Marsha. “He is very careful.”
“We think he’s lost power,” said his father, also named Kenny. “Just a freak accident.”
“He did what he loved,” said Kevin Baker, a brother-in-law.
The family thanked everyone for their help and asked that they continue to be on the lookout. They said there would be a vigil at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the waterfront where they were gathered in Washington, at Mile 68.3 of the Missouri River.
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. searches chase for paragliding who crashed in river Missouri