Senior Airman Keifer Huhman, a 2012 Navarre High School graduate, went missing on Superbowl Sunday Feb. 7. After weeks of searching the Dover area, his father Kenneth issued a statement on the Facebook page dedicated to finding his son. Part of the statement reads, “Based off of all the collected evidence, this leads us to believe that Keifer fell off the C&D bridge into the canal. Furthermore, the evidence also considers Keifer’s status to be declared as deceased. Official notification occurred this morning. This decision was not made or taken lightly by the Air Force and Keifer’s family.”
Huhman reported missing
By all accounts, Huhman was expected to be at a Superbowl Party on Feb. 7, but he didn’t show up. He was last seen at his apartment complex in Dover between 6 -6:30 p.m. that evening. A press release issued by the Air Force said the 21-year-old airman did not report to duty at Dover Air Force Base on Monday, Feb. 8. At that time, authorities at Dover Air Force Base launched a missing person investigation.
Meanwhile, Huhman’s truck, a 1997 Ford Ranger pickup truck was seen on the William V. Roth, Jr., Bridge Sunday night around 10 p.m. The truck was found by the Delaware State Police with the hood up and emergency flashers on. No one was around the truck. The police had the truck towed, but according to a family spokesperson, no further investigation was done at that time. In fact, it would not be known that Huhman’s truck was towed until a few days later.
On Wednesday, Feb. 10, Huhman’s parents filed a missing person’s report with the Dover Police Department. They, along with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, conducted an extensive aerial search throughout Kent County to try and locate the Ford truck. During the search, it was learned the truck was towed on Sunday evening.
Huhman’s father, Kenneth, arrived in Dover the following weekend and organized separate searches with volunteers to work in conjunction with the official search parties. Although not operating under an official search capacity, the Delaware City Fire Department and Maritime Unit made themselves available for searching the canal.
For the family, hours turned into days. Days turned into weeks with little to show for all their efforts. Putting the pieces together has only led to unanswered questions.
A deadly bridge
The C&D Canal Bridge where Huhman’s truck was found was built in 1995. It features six lanes, emergency shoulders on both sides and a 65-mile-per-hour speed limit. The beauty of the bridge’s design is in the yellow-painted steel cables creating two triangles in the center median of the bridge. The award-winning design was the first major all-precast, pre-stressed concrete segmental cable-stayed bridge built in the northwest United States, according to the design and construction highlights published in the September – October issue of PCI Journal.
What isn’t widely talked about is the danger in the bridge’s sleek design. The low profile parapets, or side barriers, meet the minimum guidelines of 27” set forth in the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration Bridge Inspector’s Reference Manual. However, states are permitted to go beyond the minimum requirements to ensure safety. Undisclosed sources confirm that an average of 18 people per year choose to end their life on the C&D Canal bridge and further speculate it is because of the low railing and no other safety measures employed on the bridge.
While 18 suicides per year is an astounding number, it isn’t the only concern. Accident reports show instances where vehicles have come perilously close to going over the barrier in a vehicle accident. In addition, family spokesman Kerry Patton said that on a recent walk of the bridge with Kenneth Huhman, the wind turbulence from a passing tractor-trailer nearly knocked Huhman over the bridge. The low barrier would not have prevented a fall.
Questions surround the investigation
Patton says that even with the official declaration made by Kenneth Huhman and the Air Force, questions still surround them. Did Keifer Huhman indeed accidentally fall over the bridge, falling nearly 140 feet into the canal? And, why was there no law enforcement K-9 unit placed on the bridge to determine if Huhman walked off the bridge north or south bound, or does his trail stop where his truck was located?
Efforts will continue in an attempt to locate and recover Huhman’s remains, as the family continues to grieve the unknown. But in an effort to find a small piece of closure, the family will hold a memorial service for Huhman in Dover on Friday at the Main Base Chapel. The family will return to Northwest Florida to hold a funeral service during the week of March 14 at Barrancas National Cemetery at Naval Air Station Pensacola.