VACHERIE — State wildlife and parish law enforcement authorities had to rely on chain saws and divers to recover the submerged body of a Vacherie man killed with his spouse when they crashed their boat into a tree in the Friday morning darkness in a remote part of lower St. James Parish.
Sean and Cheryl Cortez, both of Vacherie, left the La. 20 boat launch on Bayou Chevreuil sometime between 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. Friday and ran into a thick branch from a low-hanging tree stretched over a canal off Bayou Chevreuil, authorities said.
St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin Jr. said the leaning tree went over about half of the canal in the swamps near the St. James-Lafourche parish line.
Adam Einck, spokesman for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said the 16-foot center-console boat went under the tree.
Cheryl Cortez, 49, was hit in the jaw and neck by a heavy branch, Martin said, while Sean Cortez, 38, was hit in the head and knocked out of the boat.
Another boat passed the crash scene shortly afterward. Cheryl Cortez was found face down inside the boat, but Sean Cortez was missing, Einck said.
Boaters pulled the vessel back to the launch and called 911, but Cheryl Cortez was dead at the scene, Einck said.
Attempts to drag the canal bottom for Sean Cortez’s body were unsuccessful earlier Friday, Martin said. Authorities later realized Cortez’s body was trapped in branches under the tree.
Chain saw crews and divers with the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office and Killian police worked to pull Cortez’s body free about 6 p.m. Friday.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.