MUDDY CREEK TWP — Water rescue specialists shortly after dawn today were back in boats on Lake Arthur in the continuing search for a Butler Township man missing since Wednesday.
Rescuers, however, acknowledge their effort, which began Thursday afternoon, is considered a recovery operation.
“Our initial search was the area of the lake by the bridge over Route 422,” said Mark Lauer, head of Butler County’s Team 300 water rescue unit.
Authorities targeted that search area after 62-year-old Nicholas Sopel Jr.’s pickup truck was found parked on the side of the road just west of the bridge near Moraine State Park.
Sopel was last seen Wednesday. His family was searching for him when they spotted his Ford Ranger.
Left behind in the truck, authorities said, were the man’s wallet and eyeglasses.
Authorities could not rule out the possibility that Sopel fell or jumped off the bridge, into the frigid water about 20 feet below, Lauer said. He noted, however, that no one reported anyone on the bridge Thursday.
Park officials and state police about 2:30 p.m. were notified and quickly organized a water, ground and air search operation. Sopel’s family members huddled nearby, said Jake Weiland, the park’s assistant manager.
An hour or so later, rescuers in two boats from Lauer’s team and a third boat from the park were in the 47 degree water.
“We didn’t put divers in because we couldn’t pinpoint an area,” Lauer said. “It would be like looking for a needle in a haystack with 6 inches of visibility.”
The water at the bridge is between 12 and 15 feet deep.
During the lake search, rangers and volunteer firefighters from Portersville, Prospect, Unionville, Evans City, Harmony and Zelienople helped comb the park around the lake, looking for Sopel.
A state police helicopter joined in the search, which was called off around 6 p.m. due to darkness.
The search for Sopel resumed at 7 a.m. today.