With the search for Michael C. Burton's body called off, his family on Friday began planning his memorial service.
The 28-year-old Omaha man disappeared July 27 while free diving to spearfish with a friend in a cove of Beaver Lake near Rogers, Ark. Burton is presumed to have drowned.
Authorities in Arkansas ended the six-day search Friday morning.
“It's really sad because we made over 100 dives,” said Bob Grudek, sheriff of Carroll County, Ark. “We're deeply depressed it was not successful. We regret the fact that we were unable to recover the body for the family.”
Burton's mother, Marissa Pepper of La Vista, said the family hopes services for her son can be held next week at St. Peter Catholic Church in Omaha.
That's where Burton met his wife, Annemarie, taught catechism, belonged to the Knights of Columbus and volunteered in other capacities.
“Michael lived what he loved and loved what he lived: his Catholic faith, his family and God's beautiful creation,” his wife said in a prepared statement. The couple married Nov. 5, 2011.
Burton worked as a network analyst for Omaha-based Tenaska.
He graduated from Bellevue East High School in 2003. There he wrestled, played football and participated in drama. He earned his bachelor's degree from the now-closed Dana College in Blair, Neb., where he eschewed sports for music, singing tenor.
Burton was born in Missouri into an Air Force family that later spent seven years in Germany and three in the Azores before being sent to Offutt Air Force Base south of Omaha.
“He absolutely learned to love the water” while in the Azores, his mother said. He was a longtime swimmer but free diving — relying on the ability to hold your breath until resurfacing rather using a breathing tank — was a more recent love, she said.
Burton had done free diving in Nebraska's Lake McConaughy and in the Pacific Ocean off Hawaii and Santa Barbara, Calif., his mother said, but he had not previously been free diving in northwest Arkansas' Beaver Lake.
Authorities in Arkansas used sonar equipment, cadaver dogs, underwater cameras and scuba divers in their search. Recovery efforts were hampered by underwater conditions.
Sheriff Grudek described the area of Beaver Lake where Burton was free diving as a pitch black, heavily wooded ravine. The area is riddled with fishing lines, anchors and other debris that could trap Burton's body, he said. In addition, the site is a dumping spot for Christmas trees to create fish habitat.
Complicating the search, Grudek said, was that Burton wore a black diving suit and gloves, making him nearly impossible to see, and 14 pounds of weight, which could have put him at the lake's bottom.
Lake depth is 40 to 60 feet in the area where Burton was diving, the sheriff said.
“Everything, really unfortunately, was working against us on this,” he said.
Besides his wife and mother, Burton's other survivors include his son, Isaac, who will turn 1 on Aug. 14; father Michael Burton of Omaha; brothers Tim Burton of Annapolis, Md., and James Burton of Omaha; and sister Christiana Burton of La Vista.
A fund for Annemarie and Isaac Burton has been set up at Great Western Bank. Donations can be made at any branch to the “Memorial for Michael C. Burton” account.