CULLMAN, Ala. — An underwater forest with trees as tall as 60 feet (18 meters) is hampering the nearly 2-week-old search for the body of a woman who was thrown off a boat in Alabama.

Many trees weren’t cut down when workers created Smith Lake more than 50 years ago, The Cullman Times reported Tuesday. The lake is northwest of Birmingham.

The remaining trees, shown on underwater images released by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, are complicating the work, said Phil Hutchens, a member of the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office dive team.

“The standing timber is the biggest problem in the area where the search is under way. Some of the trees are 50 and 60 feet (15 to 18 meters) tall, and the water is at depths of 165 feet (50 meters) and even 238 feet (73 meters) at one point,” said Hutchens.

Kelsey Nicole Starling, 26, of Birmingham has been missing since two boats collided on the night of July 4. Starling was thrown from one of them.

One of the drivers is charged with boating under the influence.

Teams haven’t been able to find any trace of Starling, and Hutchens said the depth of the lake also is a problem.

“Our divers are certified to go to about 100 feet (30 meters) and we can’t put them in those trees, unless sonar shows something that needs to be checked carefully,” he said. “It’s very rugged and we have the divers on standby while more work is being done with sonar.”


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