Missing Jackson Man Identified

By on October 12, 2015
Billy Burke, 29, always had a smile on his face and an appetite for adventure.

Billy Burke on the summit of the Grand Teton this summer. He always had a smile on his face and an appetite for adventure. Photo: Billy Burke

Jackson, WY – The search is still underway for the remains of Jackson resident, William “Billy” Burke, 29, who jumped off a 90-foot cliff Friday afternoon in Lake Powell in Arizona and did not resurface. Burke was attempting a gainer dive, where the diver takes off facing forward and performs a backward rotation, on a cliff in the Coconino County portion of Face Canyon.

Scotty Dixon, of Jackson, was with Burke for their impromptu trip to the desert. “Billy had never been to the desert,” Dixon said. “He was always amped and ready for anything.”

Meeting up with a group of four in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 3, Burke and Dixon had their eyes on slot canyons, but flash flooding stalled their plans for the week.

On Friday, Oct. 9, one day before Dixon and Burke were slated to return to Jackson, the group woke up early to go fishing. “We caught three fish and went back to camp to have breakfast,” Dixon recalled. “Then we loaded up on the boat to go water skiing and went to the canyon to take a bath.”

However, while the crew bathed, Burke, always smiling and energized, had something else in mind. Dixon soon discovered Burke on top of the cliff. “He said he wanted to dive off of the rock, so we took a depth finder and learned that the water was more than 150 feet deep,” Dixon said.

The group then positioned the boat and a jet ski in preparation for Burke’s dive. However, Burke’s friends were not prepared for his decision to perform a gainer dive. “If any of us would have known he was going to attempt a gainer we wouldn’t have let him do it,” Dixon lamented.

Unable to make a full rotation, Burke was knocked out cold when his feet hit the water, Dixon said.

The group immediately sprang into action.

“We sent the jet ski first,” Dixon said. “We had two free divers who were a part of the crew and each dove down multiple times 30 to 35 feet looking for Billy.”

After the divers were not successful locating Burke, Dixon sent the jet skier to the nearest houseboat to contact search and rescue. Park rangers, officials from Utah State Park and Coconino Sheriff officials arrived to the scene within minutes, said Cristiana Admiral, spokesperson for Glen Canyon.

“It is really rugged terrain – sharp hills and valleys and where they are searching is not flat bottom. This is making the search slow and challenging,” Admiral explained.

Admiral said that at such murky depths, it is not efficient to send divers because they can only spend two minutes at the bottom and must take 20 minutes to reach the surface. A remotely operated vehicle (ROV) has been combing the area, Admiral said. “Using the ROV out there, they have been searching methodically from the point where he entered the water.”

Searchers are using both video and sonar to locate Burke. Today they will have completed a sweep in that area and will expand search efforts to surrounding areas tomorrow. “The focus of the search will shift [tomorrow] to clear shallower areas that are more difficult to clear with the ROV, but safe for divers,” Admiral stated in press release Monday evening. “Divers will begin searching ledges and alcoves in the canyon wall, as well as finger ledges.”

A Haslett, Michigan native and 10-year Jackson resident, Burke was a vivacious kayak and ski instructor. He loved working with children and completed nursing school this past spring. Next on his list was pursuing new aspirations to become a life coach.

“Billy was one of the most genuine people that I have ever known,” said Burke’s friend and former co-worker, Kurt Carbone. “When I moved to Jackson, I didn’t know anybody. I ended up meeting so many great people and Billy was one of those people. Even before we knew each other well, he made me feel like we were old friends. I remember some days where we would be teaching beginner lessons [at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort] on powder days and I would become so frustrated and Billy would always be smiling, making the absolute best of every situation.”

For more on Burke, stay tuned to this week’s edition of The Planet, out Wednesday, October 14.

About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Planet Jackson Hole and Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

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