Dive teams searching for body of teen who fell through Muskegon River ice

Rescue teams search the Muskegon River after a 15-year-old boy fell through ice in Sylvan Township Thursday. (Courtesy photo)

SYLVAN TWP. — Officials with the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office said they are hopeful they will find a 15-year-old boy who fell through ice on the Muskegon River alive.

County sheriff Justin Halladay said drones, sonar, a cold-water dive team from the Michigan State Police and assistance from other area rescue crews were being utilized Friday to find the teen, who fell at the 50th Avenue bridge, just south of River Road, in Sylvan Township, around 5:14 p.m. Thursday.

However, due to sub-zero temperatures, frozen water and the speed of the river, Halladay said, crews have altered their initial mission of “search and rescue” to recovering of a body.

“We are continuing to search this morning. We have crews out there, at this moment,” Halladay said. “Initially, whenever you have a situation like this, you call it a search and rescue, because we don’t know where the individual is. But at this point, we haven’t been able to locate him, and we see the river is ice-covered, and there is no place for him to come out. The sad fact is, it’s a recovery effort at this point.”

Halladay said first responders, including Evart police, fire and rescue, the Big Rapids rescue/drone team, Osceola County EMS and the Michigan State Police dive team, searched a 300 to 400 square foot area surrounding the bridge until roughly midnight Thursday, before heading out again Friday morning. He said crews would continue searching all day Friday, unless weather made the situation too hazardous for officers to continue.

“We’re trying a different approach this time. The ice is two-layered, because we had a heavy freeze, and then a thaw, and then a freeze again. We’re going to try to utilize a sonar — going on boats, over the ice — and start pinging that area, and see if we can pick up where he might be lodged, underneath there. We considered breaking the ice up in that area, to make it more accessible to divers, but the problem with that is it’s a danger to divers and could cause a problem down the river further,” Halladay said.

“This is a very difficult operation when the weather is perfect. When you add in the weather and all it brings, it’s almost impossible.”

Halladay said initial reports indicated three boys, ranging in ages from 14 to 16, fell through the ice together while walking on it. Their identities are not being made public at this time. Two were able to make it back and are healthy.

“They said they helped each other get out, but the current grabbed (the victim). (The other boys) said, he was gone in seconds, just taken under the ice,” Halladay said.

Due to the nature of the river, with its rapid currents and inconsistent depths, Halladay said, the thickness of the ice that the boys fell through is not known.

Halladay said officials are making their best effort to find the victim’s body for the sake of his family.

“We’re here for the family. They’re going through a lot, and we’re trying to support them as best as we can. Part of that support is finding their loved one. As long as he’s out there, there’s always hope for them, and we don’t want to diminish that hope,” he said.

“If we were to just say, ‘The river is frozen, we can’t find him,’ and leave, I’d think that’s more cold than the weather is right now.”

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Posted by Tim Rath

Tim is the Pioneer's associate editor. He also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Veterans pages. He can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at trath@pioneergroup.com.

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