On June 10th, Nate Wilson and Matt Schubert with Chattanooga Cycleboats were filming with Brent Thompson and Erik Baker for their upcoming travel show, Moving Mountains Roadshow. The cycleboat co-captains were showing the film crew the diversity of the activities aboard the party boat by trolling a couple of fishing lines. Suddenly one of the lines caught a snag that required turning the boat around and heading back up river. Anxiously trying to save a pretty expensive lure, they managed to break the snag free and real in the line. “I could tell there was debris still attached to the lure,” said Captain Matt. “I honestly thought it was stick that broke free from the bottom. I never imagined it was a keepsake.”
Soon what broke the surface of the Tennessee River was a burgundy colored Olympus camera, covered in plant growth and mussels. “I knew immediately the camera was not lost recently for a couple of reasons,” Captain Nate speculated. “Most people these days use their phone for shooting pictures and the growth around the camera body.” Captain Nate knew immediately that this was going to be a fun investigation. “Being a hobby photographer and having three small children, I’ve put some memory cards through the ringer, the washer and dryer being the most surprising. When Captain Matt pulled that camera out of the river by the wrist strap the first thing I said was ‘Guys that memory card is going to work and we are going to find the owner!’. I was pretty anxious and excited.”
Captain Nate tried opening the side door to the camera the way it was designed but the grit, algae and mussels had it sealed up tight. He retrieved a screw driver and went to work. Soon the outer shell of the camera was easily breaking away from the camera center and out popped a perfectly clean, new looking SanDisk 8 GB SD memory card. “I couldn’t wait to get it home, but had a long Saturday and Riverbend to finish out,” said Captain Nate.
Captain Nate didn’t get home until 1:30am Sunday but couldn’t wait to investigate the contents of the memory card. What he found when he plugged the card into his computer was a couple hundred pictures and videos of a man exploring trails and deserts somewhere in the American Southwest, a beach vacation with adults and a child and a paddleboarding trip around Maclellan Island in Chattanooga with the unmistakable Walnut and John Ross bridges in the background. Surprisingly the picture properties showed the images were taken from 2009 to 2012, making the camera missing for 5 years on the bottom of the Tennessee River! He took to social media at 2:00am to help find the owner of the camera and posted a video of the man camping alone in the American Southwest and a very clear selfie.
Captain Nate posted, “I need help finding this man. We snagged his camera with fishing line in Chattanooga. There are pictures of what seems to be a mother and daughter too, pics date from 2009 to 2012” and then went to bed. The comments started emerging in the early morning of people wanting to help find the owner of the camera and memories but to the greatest surprise, at 11:45am and less than 10 hours from the original post, Texas resident Katie Daghlian posted “This is our cousin!!!!! Omg!!! This is amazing! He was so mad he lost his camera!!!! I am in Chattanooga visiting. I can get it or connect you to him. He lives in Florida”. Before lunch Captain Nate was on the phone with Florida resident and lost camera owner, Alex Mansur.
“I just keep getting goosebumps,” Alex told Captain Nate. “The odds of you recovering that camera from the bottom of that river the way you did far exceeds that of you winning the lottery.” Nate and Alex talked for an hour going over the events of the the recovery and talking through Alex’s vivid memory of the day he dropped his camera and memories into the Tennessee River and the emotions that came with losing all the memories on the memory card.
While looking for clues to help identify Alex, Captain Nate felt like he really came to know Alex in a strange way. “I knew so much about this man after spending an hour reviewing his pictures and videos. I knew he spent some time alone in Texas after using google maps to identify trail names in the photos. I knew he used an inhaler. I knew some of his world views and ideals after seeing a picture of a bookshelf in his home. I knew he had family and I knew he cherished them. I had to find him. It was funny, at one point Alex asked me to tell him a little about me because the relationship was unusually imbalanced.”
Captain Nate knew the importance of memories, photos and videos as his laptop computer and backup hard drive was stolen from the trunk of his car at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Patton Parkway in February this year. “I mourned for three full days. My whole life was in that trunk: photos and videos of my late grandparents with my young children, their births, first words, first steps, first ball team. I was so mad at myself for taking my backup hard drive from home, even for that one evening. It was this experience that drove me to find the camera owner, but never in million years did I think it would take less than 10 hours after missing for 5 full years. This actually give me hope,” said Captain Nate.
These memories were very important to Alex and he couldn’t be more grateful. “Those videos of me hiking alone in the wilderness marked a pretty personal and challenging time in my life and those experiences I had alone in Southwest Texas were some pivotal moments that led me to where I am today,” said Alex.”I would like to tremendously thank Nate Wilson and everyone for this unbelievable experience in returning my camera I lost 5 years ago! I am still in disbelief over this amazing ordeal and how it has unfolded. He is a tremendous person for taking the time to reunite me with my camera and the many wonderful memories it held. My sincerest gratitude to Nate and everyone who helped!”
This weekend, Alex will be visiting Chattanooga for his uncle’s 80th birthday party and without hesitation, new friends Alex and Nate will be meeting on Sunday at Chattanooga Cycleboats to take boat ride to Maclellan Island and for Nate to physically hand Alex the 8GB memory card that slept on the bottom of the Tennessee River since July 19th, 2012.