Father and daughter drown in Lake Whitney

A two-day search effort for two Lake Whitney drowning victims resulted in the recovery of their bodies Sunday, May 21.

The Lake Whitney Rescue Association was called to the Cedar Creek Park area just after 11:30 a.m. Saturday, May 20, after a 9-1-1 caller indicated that a father and daughter had failed to resurface from the water.

Reports indicated that the 11-year-old girl was likely wading towards a nearby island in shallow water when she approached a drop-off where water reached depths of 30 feet.

According to a statement from the Hill County Sheriff’s Office, her father made a “heroic attempt” to save her, but he also failed to resurface.

At 2:45 p.m. Saturday, the search was officially deemed a recovery mission, and the team continued recovery efforts until around 10 p.m. Saturday night.

The search resumed early Sunday morning, and the father, identified as Ben Nzavi, 36, of Whitney and formerly of Hillsboro, was recovered at 10:35 a.m.

He was pronounced dead by Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Martis Ward at 10:54 a.m., according to reports.

The child, whose identity is not being publicly released, was recovered at 11:54 a.m. and pronounced dead by Ward at approximately noon, according to Hill County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Rick White.

Searchers had to contend with concrete, rebar, vegetation and other underwater obstructions that made the search difficult and reduced visibility, according to White.

Preliminary reports indicated that the victims may have become entangled in the debris in the area after stepping off of the shelf near the island.

White said that the search was personal for many of those involved, as they knew the victims.

“Ben participated in the jail ministry program at the sheriff’s office and went to church with some of the guys,” White said. “We knew him, and it made it a bit more difficult.”

With Memorial Day weekend coming up, the chief deputy said that the sheriff’s office is reminding lake visitors to be cautious.

“We can’t stress enough for you to have your floatation device and a buddy with you in case there is an emergency,” he said.

“As we see in this instance, something that was seemingly so safe turned so treacherous in a matter of seconds,” he added. “We don’t want to have this again.”

Multiple agencies and citizens were involved in the search, including the Hill County Sheriff’s Office, Lake Whitney Rescue Association, Texas Game Wardens, Morgan’s Point Police Dive Team, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Hill County Emergency Management, Precinct 2 Constable Justin Girsh and park police.