Police: 3 dead, 1 missing after car plunges into canal

Emergency personnel, including divers, work on the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal where a vehicle plunged into the water from South Canal Road, west of St. Georges, Del., Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. (William Bretzger/The News Journal via AP)
Emergency personnel, including divers, work on the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal where a vehicle plunged into the water from South Canal Road, west of St. Georges, Del., Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. (William Bretzger/The News Journal via AP)

MIDDLETOWN, Del. — A car with five occupants plunged into a Delaware canal on Sunday and the driver helped a teenage girl to safety before dying in a bid to rescue three other passengers, two of whom were found dead after the car was hoisted from the water, authorities said.

Delaware State Police said they initially found the body of the 18-year-old male driver in the water after he had helped a 16-year-old girl make it safely to shore. A police statement said two more passengers, boys ages 12 and 16, were pronounced dead hours later after the car they were riding in was recovered Sunday afternoon. The final passenger, a 6-year-old boy, wasn't found and remained unaccounted for late Sunday, according to police.

Authorities said they are investigating how the car ended up in the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal around 9:40 a.m. Sunday. A state police spokesman, Master Cpl. Michael Austin, praised the teen driver at a news conference, saying he had sought to rescue the others.

"He was a hero," Austin said Sunday afternoon. "He tried to do everything he could to help the remaining passengers in that vehicle."

The driver worked to free the girl, who first responders later found sitting on the banks of the canal after a bystander had called 911, the Delaware News Journal first reported. Crews from multiple law enforcement agencies then worked for hours to remove the car from the canal, pulling it out after 5 p.m. in what was described as a multi-agency recovery operation.

Austin said the male driver and the boys were related and that the girl was an acquaintance. All were Delaware residents but none were immediately identified pending notification of relatives.

The canal is about 35 feet (more than 10 meters) deep, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

State police said the situation unfolded about a mile (.6 kilometers) west of a State Route 1 bridge in Delaware.

The driver's body was found in the waters a short time after emergency responders were called and the bodies of the two boys were discovered in the vehicle when it was pulled out of the waters hours later, police said. They added that they continue the searching for the missing 6-year-old.

Police, fire, maritime units and a dive team and paramedics all took part in the effort. Authorities said a state police collision reconstruction unit is continuing to investigate how the car went into the canal.

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Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., http://www.delawareonline.com

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