Body of Oroville man recovered at Palmer Lake

Sheriff credits couple’s use of side scanning sonar

LOOMIS – After 55 days missing, the body of Darrel L. Williams, 57 of Oroville, was located on Wednesday, Sept. 3and recovered from Palmer Lake.

Williams, a retired U.S. Border Patrol Agent, whose last duty station was at Oroville, was found at the bottom of the lake in approximately 62 feet of water. He was located using side scan sonar which is owned by Gene and Sandy Ralston, who are from Kuna Idaho and a friend who helps them, John Zeman who is from Vancouver, Wash., according to Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers.

“We had been searching for Williams since July 11 when he drowned in the lake while fishing. Williams’ partner had shown us where the drowning had occurred and the search area had been mostly in that area which is 60 to 70 feet deep,” said Rogers on Thursday.

“Yesterday we searched most of the day in the area that we had been told Williams drowned using the sonar that Ralston’s had but we still had not located Williams. Later in the day we talked to other Border Patrol Agents who gave us a possible different location which was approximately 500 yards farther south down the lake,” added Rogers.

The Ralston’s took their sonar down to the other search area and within 30 minutes had located the body of Williams at approximately 62 feet on the bottom of the lake. The area was marked with a buoy and a diver was sent down to recover the body. Williams was brought to the surface at around 7:30p.m. Wednesday night. Williams’ family was then notified of his recovery.

“We probably wouldn’t have been able to locate Williams without the use of their sonar equipment and skills. Gene Ralston and Sandy Ralston use their sonar all over the United States, Mexico and Canada to search for drowning victims. They donate all of their time and equipment and only charge the expense of them to drive to the area and back home,” said the sheriff.

The Ralstons said that they do this to help out families who have lost their loved ones and Gene Ralston said they donate all of their equipment and time because it is something they love to do. Since they began using this equipment 14 years ago, they have located over 98 bodies, several at depths of 500 feet deep in Canada. Including Williams they have located seven drowning victims this year.

The couple also have a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) that they can also run down that has a camera system on it and an arm that when they locate the body they are able to grab ahold of the victim and bring them to the service. They use this a lot when they are searching in extremely deep waters.

“We at the Sheriff’s Office and the Border Patrol staff in Oroville are extremely grateful for the help we received from Gene, Sandy and John. They are special people,” said Rogers.

For information on Gene and Sandy’s Search and Rescue you can go to