- A 10-year-old boy was swept into a Milwaukee drainage ditch on Monday, following severe thunderstorms.
- The boy’s body was pulled from the Kinnickinnic River Tuesday.
- The search continues for two men who went in after the boy, officials said.
MILWAUKEE, Wis. — After being swept into a rain-swollen Milwaukee drainage ditch on Monday, the body of a 10-year-old boy was pulled from a river Tuesday while the search continued for two men who went in after the boy.
The boy was swept away on Monday following severe thunderstorms that brought heavy rain and damaging winds to a wide swath of the Midwest and parts of the South.
After rescue crews were forced to suspend operations Monday night due to nightfall amid perilous conditions, Milwaukee Fire Chief Aaron Lipski said Tuesday morning he was all but certain the three victims could not have survived the treacherous waters that feed into a 900-foot tunnel and likely littered with all kinds of debris.
“There’s no way to survive that,” he said.
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The body was discovered just before noon in the the Kinnickinnic River, about a mile and a half downstream from the tunnel, by one of numerous residents who volunteered to search the shoreline, fire officials said. It was found after first responders conducted a precarious recovery mission inside the tunnel.
The boy was about to turn 11 in less than a month, Lipski said.
Police and fire officials said around 6 p.m. Monday, the 10-year-old slipped into the drainage ditch, which branches off from the Kinnickinnic River and was swollen from hard rainfall earlier that evening.
Witnesses reported that two men, ages 34 and 37, entered the water to rescue the child, and all three were swept into a tunnel that runs underneath the roadway.
By Tuesday afternoon, the search had moved farther downstream. Divers, boats and drones were being used to locate the adults.
Officials planned to resume search efforts Wednesday morning.
Teams were searching the Kinnickinnic River Tuesday evening, Roden said. They were also continuing to search near the spot the child was found.
Lipski said the swift-moving, high water levels on Monday, mixed with nightfall, provided “no opportunity” to conduct a rescue operation Monday night.
“I assure you those attempts would probably have resulted in either firefighter fatality or serious injury,” he said. “More important than anything else I’ve said here, that our thoughts and prayers and condolences go out to the family of these people who are waiting on the return of their family members. This is an absolutely horrible situation.”
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Members of Milwaukee’s fire and police departments, Office of Emergency Management, the Metropolitan Sewage District and the National Weather Service collaborated on conducting a Tuesday morning recovery operation in the tunnels after water levels had lowered.
“They are taking risks,” Ald. Scott Spiker, who represents the area, said at the scene Tuesday. “They’re calculated to ensure the safety of the units, but their heroism here is not going unrecognized.”
Lipski said the tunnel is split into three 900-foot-long conduits that run parallel with each other and at one point bend in a certain direction. Digital radio systems stop working 30 feet into the tunnel, forcing rescuers to use an analog system that operates on line-of-sight.
That means multiple rescuers would have to enter each tunnel tethered together. Lipski said rescue crews did not know what debris they would encounter, or what oxygen or gas levels were like inside.
Lipski did not detail how those operations went Tuesday afternoon but did not report any issues other than the general fact that the conditions were challenging. Temperatures in Milwaukee climbed into the 90s in the afternoon with high humidity.
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“You can see that it’s wearing heavy on everybody,” he said.
Officials have not commented on the relationship between the three victims.
“This is a moment of unspeakable tragedy,” said Spiker, who lives nearby. “My boys have been interested in the culverts. I’ve said since day one how dangerous they are. You have to know they are death traps.”
Contributing: Sophie Carson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Associated Press.
Follow Elliot Hughes on Twitter @elliothughes12.