Missing 5-year-old girl was wearing life jacket in Steel Dam boat accident

Missing 5-year-old girl was wearing life jacket in Steel Dam boat accident


Purple celosia flowers and a Barbie doll appeared Tuesday at the edge of a man-made lookout along the Rock River in Milan, where emergency personnel spent most of the day searching for the body of a 5-year-old girl.

The impromptu memorial recognizes the child who fell into the river Monday night near the Steel Dam, along with members of her family.

Three others were rescued, including the child’s mother and brother. All were wearing life jackets when their canoe entered the dam.

A 34-year-old woman was paddling the boat with two of her children and a family friend when “the current swept them into the dam,” Illinois Conservation Police Capt. Laura Petreikis said Tuesday.

Rescuers were called around 6:30 p.m. They said life jackets are not a sure thing when it comes to safety near the dam’s powerful undercurrent.

“It’s so strong, it can rip life jackets off or pull you under, whether you have a life jacket on or not,” Petreikis said.

First responders rescued an 8-year-old boy and a 9-year-old boy from waters downstream, but the woman and her 5-year-old daughter were trapped below the dam before the mother was pulled to safety, Conservation Police said. The search for the girl was suspended about 9 p.m. due to darkness, Illinois Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Tim Schweizer said.

The mother and the two boys were treated and released from an area hospital, Petreikis said.

Conservation Police, the Moline Fire Department and representatives from Ted’s Boatarama, Rock Island, resumed the recovery effort Tuesday morning. A Conservation Police boat used sonar to take underwater images near the dam. Storms halted the search for about two hours Tuesday afternoon before emergency personnel returned to the river shortly before 5 p.m.

“We’re trying to bring closure to the family as fast as we can, but the river is unpredictable, so it’s difficult,” Petreikis said.

Conservation Police and the Moline Fire Department planned to continue the search and recovery operation Wednesday morning.

The Steel Dam is a chronically dangerous place.

The undercurrent is swift and has caught many people by surprise, including several who lost their battle with the raging river in recent years.

In 2014, two men were rescued from the Rock River at the Steel Dam when they were sucked under the water and clung to a tree branch to survive.

A year earlier, a 40-year-old Cambridge man died after being thrown from a personal watercraft. The deceased and a friend ignored warning signs and attempted to ride over the dam.

A boil, or “hydraulic roller,” is created when water rolls over the top of the low-head dam, eroding the river bottom over time. A turbulent, washing machine-like effect in the water is the result.

In 2008, a 20-year-old woman was wading upstream of the dam when she was sucked under the water and drowned.

And in 2007, a 70-year-old fisherman died after he fell into the Rock River at the Steel Dam.


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