CHINA — The body of Tye Feihel, a 43-year-old man with autism who disappeared during a swim in China Lake, was recovered about noon Tuesday from 27 feet of water, 150 yards off the shore.

Feihel, who was described by his family as an expert swimmer, left the family’s summer home on the lake for his first swim of the season Monday afternoon; but when he didn’t arrive at a rendezvous at the Lakeside Country Store, his mother, Clemence Feihel, called 911, triggering a search that night.

Feihel had autism and schizophrenia but was not on medication at the time of his death, according to a news release from the Maine Warden Service. It also described him as happy and friendly.

The search, which included boats, a dive team, sounding equipment, an airplane, and specially trained dog units was focused on about a 1-square-mile section of the lake that included the start and planned end point of Feihel’s swim, according to Sgt. Dave Chabot, of the Maine Warden Service.

The cause of death has not been determined, and the Maine Warden Service and the state medical examiner’s office are continuing to investigate.

While the search was ongoing, Feihel’s family gathered in their summer home as news and messages of support came in.

At the Lakeside Country Store, employee Tracy Fletcher described Feihel as a bright, sunny person who was well-known and well-liked.

“He was a wicked nice guy,” she said. “He was sweet. He would pick flowers from up and down the road and bring them in for everyone.”

Clemence Feihel 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,” his brother Roy Feihel said.

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

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

Despite his autism and his nontraditional swimming stroke, Feihel’s family said, 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 was 66 degrees Tuesday.

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

Feihel’s neighbor Dale Worster is also a fireman. He and his wife, Rose, were among the first to begin searching.

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

He walked the shoreline, sometimes wading through the water, thinking that Feihel might be clinging to a tree or vegetation along the bank.

The initial search went on until midnight and was suspended until 6:30 a.m., when specialized equipment began to arrive.

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

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

The family said 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 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. Search team members 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 dog unit from the 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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