Crews searching Ohio River for two men missing from canoe trip: We're not giving up

CINCINNATI – After covering more than 100 miles, authorities and community members continued their search Tuesday for two young men missing from a canoe trip in the Ohio River.

Authorities said 20-year-old Cameron Buerger and 19-year-old Marty Stanaford were last seen at 6:30 p.m. Saturday about 15 miles east of the Meldahl Dam.

The two are longtime friends from Troy, Ohio, a city just north of Dayton.

“We’re going to do everything we can to find them,” said Justice Speraw, a member of the search group. “I have enough gear to go down to the bottom of the river and find them myself.”

The number of people looking for the men has grown each day since their disappearance.

Speraw, who went to school with both Buerger and Stanaford, is part of more than a dozen people from Troy who have volunteered to search.

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The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is leading the effort with three boats equipped with sonar. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, Pendleton County Search and Rescue, volunteers from Ohio Task Force 1 and Buffalo Trace Search and Rescue are assisting.

Crews say they are focused on a 15-mile stretch from the Meldahl Dam to a cabin upstream owned by Stanaford’s family.

“We’re following all leads and doing everything we can to locate the boat and the boys,” ODNR spokesperson Eileen Corson said.

Ripley resident Herb Layford said he spotted Buerger and Stanaford in the middle of the river Saturday while doing yard work.

Authorities believe he was the last person to see them before their disappearance.

“The waves were about two-and-a-half feet high and the wind was up so they were kind of… having a tough time.” Layford said. “I do not know what happened to them after that. It’s just terrible. It’s just a damn shame they’re out here somewhere.”

Stanaford’s aunt, Sherry Peterson, said crews near the dam Sunday found a cooler that belonged to the men.

Despite the growing number of volunteers, Peterson said there is a lot of area to cover and she needs the community’s help.

“We're just asking on behalf of the family, if you live in this area, if you would please just check for us,” Peterson said. “The more eyes and the more people that we have looking, we might have a chance of finding the boys or the canoe.”

Peterson said Buerger and Stanaford went to high school and graduated together.

She said the two are very close.

“They're really, really good friends and they're good boys,” Peterson said. “They were just out to have a nice time and we're hoping that we just find them somewhere.”

Rob Buerger, Buerger’s father, said he has spent every minute of the last three days searching.

He said he knew right away something was wrong when he didn’t hear from his son over the weekend.

“I've got to get to the bottom of this," Rob Buerger said. "When the river is strong and it's up, the current is really flowing. And if those boys were out on the water, (it’s) a big, big issue."

Buerger and Stanaford were using a green, 15-foot Old Town brand canoe when they went missing. Both men were wearing blue jeans and straw cowboy hats.

Speraw called Stanaford one of the funniest people he has ever met. He said Buerger was “goofy but smart” – smart enough to survive in any dangerous situation.

At sunset, volunteers and authorities will gather to discuss their findings and plan for the next day. As of Tuesday, there was no talk of calling off the search. 

Speraw said he refuses to give up searching until the families affected have answers.

“(I’m searching) for the love of friendship,” Speraw said. “For the bond that we’re going to have forever, whether they’re here or not. I’m not giving up. I never give up with anything. Won’t start now.”

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