(Source: Hayley Kappes El Paso Times, Texas (MCT) — Utah officials on Saturday found the body of a missing University of Texas at El Paso student who was swept away by a strong current in the Colorado River on Wednesday.
At about 12:40 p.m. Saturday, searchers found 21-year-old Waley Liang’s body a quarter of a mile downstream from the area in the Colorado River where he was last seen, Grand County sheriff’s officials said in a news release posted on their website Saturday evening.
Sheriff’s officials could not be reached Saturday to confirm the cause of death.
Liang was on a UTEP Geology Club field trip to the Gold Bar Recreation Area near Moab, Utah, when he attempted to wade 50 yards across the river toward an island to join six others who had already crossed.
Liang lost his footing, and a strong current pulled him under. He struggled to swim for 20 to 30 yards, Grand County Sheriff Steven White previously said.
People from the UTEP group jumped in after Liang, but could not find him.
Rescuers on Saturday expanded their searches, scouring the river with boats, divers and search dogs, and conducted shoreline
searches along the river banks.
It was unknown Saturday why the UTEP group crossed the river and why Liang had stayed behind at the campsite as the others crossed.
José Hurtado, associate professor of geological sciences at UTEP, is the adviser to the Geology Club and oversaw the students’ activities on the trip, university spokesman Chris Lechuga said.
Five other students and a parent of a student were on the trip.
UTEP officials expressed their grief in response to Liang’s death.
“This was a very unfortunate and tragic accident,” UTEP President Diana Natalicio said in a statement. “I want to personally express my deep condolences to Waley’s family. While we cannot know the depths of their grief in losing their son, the UTEP family will do what we can to help comfort them.”
Laura Serpa, chairwoman of the UTEP Department of Geological Sciences, said she felt particularly close to Liang as his academic adviser and teacher.
“He did not hesitate to take the most difficult courses and he clearly had the potential to succeed as a geophysicist and to make major contributions to science,” Serpa said in a statement. “He also had a gift for making friends and he will be missed by all of us who knew him at UTEP.”Ê
Friends and family held out hope for Liang’s survival until his body was found.
Liang’s Facebook page was flooded with prayers and hopeful messages, said Kathryn Dean, a friend of Liang’s.
“We are all choosing to assume the best and will not acknowledge anything less unless forced to by facts,” Dean said in an email before officials found Liang’s body.
“He is a beloved young man, and I know if the tables were turned, he’d be holding out hope, too.”
Hayley Kappes may be reached at email@example.com; 546-6168. Follow her on Twitter @hayleykappes.
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