GARLAND — After more than five days of intense searching, a Garland man was found alive on the bank of the South River in southern Sampson in what local officials called an amazing resolution to an arduous mission conducted by agencies from across the state.
The Sampson County Sheriff’s Office and Sampson County Emergency Management announced the successful rescue of William “Willie” Powell, 72, of Garland Sunday evening, the culmination of the round-the-clock dedication from emergency service crews from across North Carolina, as well as some from Virginia.
“This search and rescue mission has been a testament to the willpower of the multiple emergency service and volunteer workers that did not want to give up,” said Sampson Sheriff Jimmy Thornton. “I am thankful to everyone who helped out in the search for Mr. Powell and I’m extremely thankful for the blessing of being able to locate him.”
It was around 6 p.m. Sunday when Powell was discovered on the bank of the South River about a mile west of U.S. 701, just south of Garland. Powell was alert, but dehydrated, officials said. He was subsequently airlifted by helicopter to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington.
The search began on Tuesday, May 26, shortly after 1:17 p.m., when the Sampson County E-911 center received a report of a missing person off of Birdy Lane in Garland, N.C.
The search in and around Garland was “repetitive” in multiple areas over the past few days due to the fact that Powell suffers from dementia and was possibly trying to avoid search crews, authorities said. Powell resides at 85 Birdy Lane and has a history of wandering off from his residence, they said in recent days.
Thornton and Emergency Management Services Director Ronald Bass expressed their appreciation for the support received throughout the search and rescue mission —a long list from numerous counties.
Among them, the N.C. Department of Public Safety was heavily involved in coordinating resources through N.C. Emergency Management and providing multiple manpower resources, especially through the Civil Air Patrol, the State Highway Patrol, N.C. National Guard, Forestry Service, N.C. Parks and Tarheel ChalleNGe.
Deputies and others from various organizations scoured the southern end of the county on ATVs, Search and Rescue teams traversed rivers that run in and around Garland and the Southeastern North Carolina AirBorne Law Enforcement (SABLE) out of Wilmington, as well as aerial units from several other agencies, were utilized in the days-long search.
“This operation has involved hundreds of workers, which required a unified command system of multiple disciplines throughout the event,” Thornton stated. “Everyone worked well together and their cross training made everything very fluid.”
In addition to the state, regional and local agencies involved, volunteer search and rescue teams throughout North Carolina and Virginia assisted “without hesitation” throughout the ordeal, the sheriff noted. The American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the N.C. Baptist Men’s Disaster Support Team were “very instrumental in providing operational support and logistics for the operation as well,” he said.
He urged others to reciprocate that support in the future.
“I encourage anyone who wishes to make a donation to a worthwhile cause to please give to the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the N.C. Baptist Men’s Association or their local volunteer fire, rescue or EMS organizations,” Thornton said. “The support of these organizations has been critical to our success in locating Mr. Powell.”
Thornton also thanked the many in the community who rallied around Powell and his family, offering prayers, support and well-wishes for a safe return home. The sheriff said he and the family are incredibly thankful for a happy ending to the story.
“I know the family is elated and relieved,” he attested. “I would also like to thank everyone who said a prayer or offered support in some way, shape or form. I know the family is appreciative of the love and support they have received through this ordeal as well.”