published Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Search goes on for missing boater

Officers examine a sailboat Tuesday morning at Gold Point Marina. A man fell overboard early Monday morning, and search teams continue to look for him.
Officers examine a sailboat Tuesday morning at Gold Point Marina. A man fell overboard early Monday morning, and search teams continue to look for him.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

Tears flowed as 79-year-old Billie Hess watched a single boat search for his son’s body near Chickamauga Dam.

“It’s rough. It’s hard,” he said Tuesday, choking back his emotion. “We just have to look to the Lord.”

Hess received the news that his son, 37-year-old Jimmie Martin Hess, likely was dead after he went overboard on a sailboat early Tuesday morning.

Hess stood near the water, watching the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency boat continue the search for his son.

“They are doing all they can do,” he said.

Other authorities and his son’s friends who had been searching earlier had since left.

“I’m just wondering where all the boats are,” Billie Hess said in a resigned voice.

His son’s body probably was in the river somewhere since it’s unlikely he made it out, Hess said.

“I told them it would be a miracle if he was [alive],” he said. “I don’t see much hope. If he was, he would have been out by now.”

There were more questions than answers about what took place onboard the sailboat.

“There’s all kinds of rumors,” he said.

On Tuesday afternoon, investigators still were trying to learn what happened after getting conflicting witness statements.

Authorities received a 911 call about 4 a.m. from the three remaining people on the sailboat, who told police they searched for Jimmie Martin Hess for an hour before they called.

When the boaters did call police, there were reports that the occupants were intoxicated and disoriented, which delayed search efforts for another hour, according to Chattanooga police. There also were reports that there was a fight onboard before Hess went over, police said.

The occupants were between the ages of 30 and 50, according to TWRA District Boating Officer Brian Letner, and they immediately tried to save Hess after he went over.

Chattanooga police investigators interviewed the witnesses and investigated the incident as a single vessel accident.

The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit assisted in the search effort Tuesday morning.

Billie Hess said his son owned his own tile company, Jimmie Hess Tile.

Scott Riley and other friends of Jimmie Hess went out on personal vessels Tuesday in hopes of finding Hess.

“I talked to him Monday morning, and he said he was going to the [Bessie Smith] Strut,” said Riley, who added that he did not know the other people onboard the sailboat with Jimmie Hess. “Somehow, the timeframe, we don’t know when he got to the boat.”

Jimmie Hess is a father to two boys and a girl and was separated from his wife, his father said. His son spent much of his time coaching little league sports for his children or planning camping trips, his father said.

In the next few days as Father’s Day approaches, there were talks of planning another camping trip, Hess said.

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