CHINA — The body of Tye Feihel, a 43-year-old man with autism, was recovered from 27 feet of water, 150 yards off the shore of China Lake at noon, ending a search that included boats, a dive team, sounding equipment, an airplane, and specially trained K-9 units.

The search was focused on an approximately 1-square-mile section of the lake that included the start and planned end point of Feihel’s swim, according to Sergeant Dave Chabot of the Maine Warden Service.

Feihel, who is described by his family as an expert swimmer, went for his first swim of the season on Monday afternoon; when he didn’t arrive at a rendezvous, his mother, Clemence Feihel, called 911, triggering a search on Monday night.

The cause of death has not been determined, and the investigation is being continued by the Maine Warden Service and the state medical examiner office.

The family gathered in their summer home while news of the search and messages of support came in.

Members of the community described Feihel as a bright and sunny personality who was well-known and well-liked.

“Tye’s like a celebrity,” said his brother, Roy Feihel, while the search was ongoing.

“He was a wicked nice guy,” said Tracy Fletcher, who works at the Lakeside Country Store. “He was sweet. He would pick flowers from up and down the road, and bring them in for everyone.”

Feihel’s mother, Clemence, said that the family has owned the summer home since 1969, and that her son loved the water from an early age.

“There’s a free feeling that he gets when he goes in swimming,” Roy Feihel said.

He would often be seen in the water, where he had an unusual swimming style that mostly involved his monofin, which fit over both his feet, and his legs.

“He wouldn’t really use his arms,” Roy Feihel said.

Despite his autism and his nontraditional swimming stroke, Feihel’s family said that he was a strong swimmer who had gone on long swims in the lake hundreds of times before.

“He was like a whale. He was more comfortable than anyone else in the water,” Roy Feihel said.

Clemence Feihel said that she was sometimes nervous about his swimming habits, particularly in cold water, so she had encouraged him to take up kayaking instead during the past two or three years.

While Feihel grew to enjoy the kayak, he also enjoyed swimming. The lake temperature is currently 66 degrees.

The search efforts included several game wardens, the Maine Warden Service Dive Team, Warden Service aircraft and watercraft, China Fire & Rescue, China Police Department and several volunteers.

Feihel’s neighbor, Dale Worster, is also a fireman who help in the search.

“When the call came in, I said, ‘that’s right next door,’” he said. “I hit the water right away.”

Tye Feihel entered the water at the camp at about 3 p.m. for his first swim of the season. His mother went to pick him up at about 5 p.m., and called the police at about 7 p.m.  

“I went out and waited for him by the water. But he never came,” his mother said.

The family said that Feihel would sometimes enjoy hiding from them, which had resulted in a 911 call once before, but that he had never disappeared for more than a couple of hours.

On Tuesday morning, Chabot said that the search had shifted to a more focused examination of the water between the Feihel’s summer home and the Lakeside Country Store on Lakeview Drive.

Members of the search team also scoured the shoreline, and knocked on the doors of camps along the lakefront to talk to people who might have seen Feihel.

The search team also brought in a K-9 unit from the Maine Warden Service that had been specially trained to detect a human scent coming from the water.

Chabot said that swimmers of all experience levels should be careful to observe safety rules, including staying within 100 feet of shore, swimming with a partner, and using a life safety vest, particularly when swimming long distances.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
[email protected]

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