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Girl, 5, presumed drowned in swollen Conn. River

  • Rescue and recovery workers continue their search for a missing child on the Connecticut River between South Hadley and Holyoke Sunday afternoon.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Rescue and recovery workers continue their search for a missing child on the Connecticut River between South Hadley and Holyoke Sunday afternoon.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Rescue and recovery workers continue their search for a missing child from a dock on the Connecticut River at Cove Island Road in South Hadley Sunday afternoon.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Rescue and recovery workers continue their search for a missing child from a dock on the Connecticut River at Cove Island Road in South Hadley Sunday afternoon.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Rescue and recovery workers continue their search for a missing child on the Connecticut River near Cove Island Road in South Hadley Sunday afternoon.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Rescue and recovery workers continue their search for a missing child on the Connecticut River near Cove Island Road in South Hadley Sunday afternoon.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Rescue and recovery workers continue their search for a missing child on the Connecticut River between South Hadley and Holyoke Sunday afternoon.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Rescue and recovery workers continue their search for a missing child from a dock on the Connecticut River at Cove Island Road in South Hadley Sunday afternoon.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Rescue and recovery workers continue their search for a missing child on the Connecticut River near Cove Island Road in South Hadley Sunday afternoon.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

The search ended for the day late in the afternoon because of thunderstorms and threats of tornadoes.

The girl, the youngest member of her family, fell off a dock at the end of Cove Island Road shortly after 9 p.m. Saturday. According to a statement from the Northwestern district attorney’s office, the family had gathered at the Cove Island Road home to watch a local fireworks display. An an eyewitness reported seeing the girl walking on the dock, and then falling off in the space between the end of the dock and a moored boat.

Several adults dived into the water to rescue her, but were unable to find the girl, according to authorities. “Every indication is that this incident is a tragic accident,” the statement reads.

Police were summoned with a 911 call around 9:15 p.m.

“We searched extensively Saturday night and today, and we came up with nothing,” said a disheartened South Hadley Fire Capt. James Pula, who was among the divers in the river Saturday night and Sunday. “It’s a recovery at this point.”

Pula said South Hadley rescue workers are planning to be back on the river Monday. He said searchers who arrived at the scene Saturday around 9:20 p.m. immediately jumped into the water, hoping to rescue the girl in perilous conditions.

“The current is very strong, the river high, visibility is near zero, so it made the search very difficult,” said Pula. “The conditions were horrible. There were a lot of logs and debris in the river. It was very dangerous.”

Pula said the accident occurred at a private home at the end of Cove Island Road. The area of the river being searched is at the end of Cove Island Road about a mile north of the Joseph E. Muller Bridge on Route 202 connecting Holyoke to South Hadley, an area not far from the Red Cliff Canoe Club and Canal Park in South Hadley.

Pula said rescue workers searched the river until early Sunday morning, when they determined there was little hope of finding the child alive.

The recovery effort resumed Sunday around 10 a.m., and went on until about 3:30 p.m. Sunday, when it was called off due to dangerous weather. Police closed the river from the Western Mass Yacht Club on Cove Island Road south, not letting boat traffic pass by because it would have interfered with the search.

Two South Hadley boats and one boat from the Environmental Police were used in the recovery efforts, as well as two helicopters and a State Police sonar device that identifies images in the water that divers can then examine.

“We were able to dive to one of the images they found,” Pula said. “We started to dive, and were able to get to one, but the storms rolled in and there were news reports of tornadoes so we had to call it off.”

He said South Hadley search teams will be out again in boats Monday to search the surface and will again be joined by the State Police divers Tuesday.

Boaters near the scene Sunday — who said they had been nearby Saturday night as well — said they had joined in the nighttime search, employing floodlights from their boats to guide the rescue crews, after a woman came running for help saying her daughter had fallen into the river.

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