ANNA MARIA - With about a dozen curious onlookers gazing from a nearby footbridge, two frontloaders began digging sections of Anna Maria Island beach today to search for the possible remains of a missing woman.
The Manatee County Sheriff's Office does not know for sure if missing Anna Maria Island business woman Sabine Musil-Buehler is buried in the sand near the Willow Avenue footbridge but it became a possibility when some of her belongings were found nearby in vegetation on July 9, said sheriff's spokesman Dave Bristow.
What makes the dig a challenge is that the beach has been renourished and no longer has the natural sediment layers that would make it possible to dig shallower and find disruptions in the sand, said Detective John Kenney.
"We have to be very meticulous now," Kenney said. "It is time consuming to do it right."
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The dig began at 9 a.m. and became dramatic about an hour later when one of the frontloaders unearthed something hard 4 feet down.
It turned out to be an old truck tire filled with concrete with a hole in the middle, probably used as a post holding up a volleyball net, deputies said.
Nothing else had been found by 11 a.m.
The dig was actually delayed 90 minutes this morning while the sheriff's office waited for their partners on the dig the Anna Maria Island Turtle and Shore Bird Monitoring to finish an emergency operation in another part of the island.
Only the second green sea turtle nest found on the island in the last 28 years was discovered early this morning near the third lifeguard stand at Coquina Beach, said Suzi Fox, director of the turtle group. At 7:30 this morning, Fox and her volunteers moved the rare green turtle nest, which was filled with eggs, to another location on the island, Fox said. The sheriff's office waited until Fox's group cordoned off several existing turtle nests on the beach near Willow Avenue before they started to dig.
The tractor was digging about 10 feet from a turtle nest but the turtle nest won't be moved for the dig, Fox said. "The mama turtle digs about 3 feet undergrounds before she lays her eggs so if there is something there we would have seen it," she said.
The sheriff's office had to secure a federal permit in order to dig on the beach during nesting season which runs from May through October.
The dig started out where it did today not because the spot near the Willow bridge was any more promising than any other place within a perimeter that the sheriff's office has defined, Bristow said. "This is just a center point," he said. "We will work out both ways from here."
The sheriff's office was expected to dig until nightfall, putting the beach back together as each section was excavated. "Sheriff Brad Steube has told us we will have whatever we need for as long as we need it to cover the entire area that we need to cover," Kenney said.
Dianne Small, and her 17-year-old daughter Courtney, are staying with family in a vacation rental house on Willow Avenue. They have been coming to the beach for several days and were surprised by today's dig.
"It is kind of creepy and scary," Courtney Small said. "We have set our umbrellas there the last few days where they are digging."
But Courtney hopes they find the woman's remains. "It will be good for the family to bring closure," Courtney Small said.