After nine hours of combing the river near an Edinburgh dam, dozens of emergency workers halted their search for a teen who had been sucked under water while trying to rescue a friend.
The crews had been searching since shortly after noon, when five Franklin teens who had been swimming upstream of the dam of the Big Blue River became overpowered by fast-moving water after going over the dam.
Four were rescued; but Jason K. Moran, 17, had not been found. He and three other teens went over the dam to try to help a friend who had been swept over.
Searchers from area fire departments and sheriff’s offices, led by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, plan to return at daylight today. One of the teens, Sarah McLevish, 16, had been swept over the dam while the teens were swimming. Moran, Michael Chadbourne, 16, Trent Crabb, 17, and Mark Nally, 18, then went over the dam to help her.
All are Franklin Community High School students. Four of the teens were aided by passers-by after their yells for help were heard. Nearing sunset, more than 30 people were still searching for any sign of Moran.
McLevish and Chadbourne were hospitalized in grave condition on Friday night.
All afternoon, boats prowled the river. Searchers in life jackets walked the shoreline, and divers in thick wetsuits searched under the rapidly moving surface of the water.
A military helicopter buzzed over the treetops, and local business owners helped walk the banks and brought their boats into the water. On the shore, police, firefighters and spectators watched the water steadily pour over the dam.
As the search continued Friday evening, the teens’ Franklin classmates gathered on the high school football field to pray.
The five teens had been swimming in the river, upstream from the dam near State Road 252 in Edinburgh, an area neighbor said is not usually a place for swimming.
The teens likely didn’t realize the dangerous conditions they were swimming in, with the river about 5 feet higher than normal due to rain this week and strong currents from the high water, Department of Natural Resources officer Lt. Bill Browne said.
Shortly after noon, McLevish went over the dam and was sucked underwater by a strong current. The four boys went over the dam to try to help her.
They all began struggling.
Crabb and Nally realized they couldn’t handle the strong current pulling at them and got out. McLevish, Moran and Chadbourne got pulled into a strong, circular current that would have repeatedly pushed them under the water while pulling them into the wall of the dam, making it difficult to escape, Browne said.
Crabb and Nally were able to grab McLevish and Chadbourne. They started screaming for help, clutching their unconscious friends in one hand and the shore with the other.
McLevish and Chadbourne were unconscious when they were pulled from the water with the help of a passer-by and a nearby business owner, who began CPR. The current was too strong for their friends to lift them up onto the shore without getting their feet swept out from under them, said Christopher Lloyd, who was flagged down to help while he was driving by.
Neither teen was breathing or had a pulse, so bait shop owner Robert Jessie and Lloyd did chest compressions for two to three minutes before police and medics arrived.
The teens were taken to Johnson Memorial Hospital then flown to an Indianapolis hospital in grave condition. They remained in critical condition Friday night, a hospital spokesperson said.
Crabb and Nally gathered with family members at a nearby church Friday evening, waiting for news and meeting with a chaplain.
During the search, nearby roads were packed with emergency vehicles, and multiple boats were launched into the water. One local business that has helped with searches before eventually left because at least six boats were crowding the area.
Rescuers searched downstream, looking for any sign of Moran along the shore or possibly clutching branches. Searchers initially looked closer to the dam but focused most of their search farther south as the hours passed.
One of the biggest challenges for rescuers was the strong current near the dam that had pulled the teens underwater. Because of that current, they couldn’t bring a boat too close to the dam because it, too, could be pulled under.
About three hours after the teens went over the dam, emergency workers shifted to a recovery mission, instead of a rescue attempt. Searchers had found no sign of Moran and said he likely wouldn’t have survived after that length of time without help, Browne said. The pull of the water is so strong and dangerous that divers can’t risk going near the area by the dam, and searchers can’t pull a boat into it either, he said.
Police and firefighters searched unsuccessfully as far downstream as they thought Moran might have traveled, Browne said. They continued a slower-paced search that would put divers or boaters at less risk, he said.
“We’ll risk anything if we can get out there and save a life,” Browne said.