LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Authorities believe they have recovered the body of one of the three people who have been missing since a pontoon boat capsized in the Ohio River over the weekend.
A family walking along the river near the Falls of the Ohio on Monday night found the body and called authorities, police said. Capt. Joel DeMoss told TV station WLKY (http://bit.ly/1Cm6pwb) authorities believe it was likely a man involved in the accident.
Jefferson County Deputy Coroner Jack Arnold said he expected to identify the victim Tuesday.
The families of three missing boaters had been struggling Monday to accept the likelihood that they will not be found alive.
“We’re all just numb,” Daria Raymore, whose brother and niece had been missing, said.
Dozens were gathered at the river bank Monday, weeping and waiting for updates on the search for Danal Swinney, 36, his girlfriend, Joyce Wright, 37, and his 10-year-old daughter, who the family called “We-We.”
Nine people, five of them children, were aboard the pontoon boat Saturday night to watch fireworks over the river. The rushing current slammed the boat into a barge.
Three of the children managed to grab onto the barge in the chaotic moments as the boat began to list. They climbed up and pulled an adult from the wreckage.
“Everybody was screaming,” said 12-year-old Kyre Wright, Joyce Wright’s son, who said he hoisted himself onto the barge as the pontoon boat sank below him. They scanned the water for their family but could see nothing through the mud and brush. The boat capsized.
Donald Swinney, 52, was pulled from the river Saturday night and taken to the hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. His nephew, 14-year-old Mark Swinney Jr., died at the scene. The coroner listed the cause of death for both as drowning.
Rescue efforts for the missing three have been hampered by the treacherous river, moving swiftly and clogged by downed trees and floating debris from recent storms.
Louisville Metro Fire Chief Gregory W. Frederick said the water is moving faster than it has for years, too fast for pleasure boats to travel safely.
But no alert was issued Saturday night to discourage boaters on the river for the holiday.
Lt. Chris Pince with the United States Coast Guard said the river was just above 12 feet deep Saturday. When the agency issued an advisory alerting boaters to rough conditions April 18, the river was more than 10 feet deeper, Pince said, which typically means it’s faster moving too. The agency monitored the river’s conditions, deemed it safe enough for boaters and decided against issuing a similar warning this weekend.
Nonetheless, Frederick said the fire department was unable to send divers underwater, so had to rely on sonar and sight. Dozens of boats from state, local and federal agencies across the region scoured the river all day Sunday but turned up nothing.
On Monday, the fire department transferred command to the Louisville Metro Police Department’s dive team, as is customary when a rescue operation becomes a recovery mission.
“We’re not ruling out a remote chance,” Frederick said of the possibility of finding survivors, “but for the most part, we’re in recovery mode.”
The police department’s homicide unit will also conduct an investigation into the crash. Investigators were piecing together how it happened.
A video camera on a downtown building, blocks away, captured the boat as it made the doomed turn across the river, Frederick said. The boat, visible from the light on its canopy, was traveling downstream, nearer the Indiana bank, when it turned toward the Kentucky side of the river and tried to cross in front of the barge.
Frederick said it is believed that the current slammed the boat against the barge and pinned it there. In the video, the boat’s light disappears at 9:26 p.m. The fire department was dispatched at 9:28 p.m. and by the time they arrived minutes later, the boat was already upside down, still smashed against the front end of the barge, Frederick said.
Most on the boat were related and the few that weren’t were close friends.
Wright did not know how to swim, said her brother, Colby Caldwell. He described her as a devoutly religious woman who adored her two children and loved to travel. She worked in customer service for a cable company.
Danal Swinney was an amateur photographer who had started renting boats for trips along the Ohio River to take wildlife photographs and build his portfolio, said James Moody, who owns Derbyville Water Rental, the company that rented Swinney the boat. He went on the water often, Moody said, maybe once or twice a week. His sister said he also worked at a record store.
“We know death does come, but it’s not supposed to come like this,” said Tosha Bradley, a lifelong friend of Wright. “It’s too hard to comprehend.”
Associated Press writer Rebecca Reynolds Yonker in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.
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