Monday, September 26, 2022

In Photos: Divers face challenging conditions before recovering car from Cape Fear River

A car is pulled out of the Cape Fear River opposite downtown Wilmington Friday evening. It is likely the same car seen launching over the Riverwalk earlier Friday, just after midnight, and sinking into the river. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

This is a developing story and will be updated with new information.

UPDATE (August 29 at 6:05 a.m.) — Two bodies were discovered in the red Dodge Challenger when it was extracted from the river, a 31-year-old male and a 40-year-old male, according to police.

The names will be released [Saturday], once the families have had some time to process,” according to the WPD. “The cause of the crash, and other details, remain under consideration.”

WILMINGTON — A red sedan was pulled out of the Cape Fear River early Friday evening, roughly 900 feet downriver from where a car was seen driving at high speed west on Market Street through downtown Wilmington, launching from the Riverwalk, and sinking into the river just after midnight early Friday morning.

Wilmington Police spokesperson Jessica Williams could not confirm if a body, or multiple bodies, had been found in the car.

Divers with the New Hanover Sheriff’s Office initially delayed their search Friday morning due to strong river currents and a high tide. They had identified an object at the bottom of the river near The George on the Riverwalk restaurant, but could not yet confirm if it was a vehicle, according to Williams.

She said they could only reach a depth of 20 feet, and the river at that location was around 40 feet deep with the morning tide. The strong current made it difficult for the divers, according to Williams, as they could only get halfway down before it ripped them away from the anchor line they were holding to.

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“Multiple agencies are on scene this morning, working to recover the vehicle and any possible individual(s) inside,” according to a Friday morning release from the WPD.

The divers had expected to resume their search at low tide sometime after 1 p.m. The initial plan was to drag it with the downstream current toward a location at Dram Tree Park, near the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. But as the current went upriver Friday afternoon and into the evening, a large river barge used a crane to pull up the boat, where it was dragged to the western bank of the river near the Battleship North Carolina.

At 5:27 p.m., hundreds of spectators lined along the Riverfront watched the car fully emerge on the opposite side of the river.

Earlier, members of the Wilmington Police Department, Wilmington Fire Department, and New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office had cordoned off a section of the boardwalk alongside The George patio. At around 9:40 a.m., divers dressed in orange scuba suits walked down the boardwalk to an NHCSO boat, were transferred to a WPD boat, then dove into the water about 50 to 80 feet from the boardwalk.

“We’ve been searching since midnight,” Williams said. “We had a SABLE [helicopter] up last night and the boat out, but the divers couldn’t go in until daybreak.”

Williams confirmed rumors that a red wallet had been scooped out of the river sometime around 9 a.m., about 200 feet upriver from where the WPD boat continued to sit.

Friday afternoon., the wallet was found sitting on the deck of The George patio, a section the restaurant had reserved for the WPD. According to Williams, it was considered not evidence and an officer soon removed it from the patio.

Roughly 30 minutes later, the divers had tied a marker buoy to an object at the river bottom, then cleared out of the scene. At the time, Williams said the divers believed the object was a car.

“We are not 100% sure it is the car because the back bumper is missing so there’s no tag, but they can tell it’s a red car,” Williams said. “Due to the darkness and murkiness of the water (the car is roughly 35 feet down), they can’t see inside to confirm if anyone is in it. The next step is getting it out of the water.”

The Henrietta boat soon left its position in line with the buoy, near a crane truck parked nearby.

Sandi Adams and Alice Estey were standing on the patio of The George watching the action unfold. They said it was the first time they’d been out for lunch in six months, and although potentially tragic, it was exciting for them to watch.

“It’s a fascinating addition to a first lunch out since the pandemic began,” Adams said.

“It’s totally fascinating, and obviously a lot of people are interested,” Estey added. “There are people lined up all over the place to see what’s going on.”

View more pictures of the scene below:

9:04 a.m. Police tape marks the spot where a car was seen driving at high speed west on Market Street, launching from the Riverwalk, and sinking into the Cape Fear River just after midnight early Friday morning. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
9:23 a.m. A WPD officer throws a rope to a NHCSO deputy to tie the two boats together as they continue their search for a boat seen launching into the Cape Fear River just after midnight early Friday morning. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
9:34 a.m. A member of the New Hanover Sheriff’s diving unit walks along the Riverwalk late Friday morning. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
A diver with the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office rests on the edge of a boat after diving in search of a car that was seen driving over a downtown Wilmington pier and sank into the Cape Fear River. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
9:35 a.m. Members of the New Hanover Sheriff’s diving unit walk along the Riverwalk late Friday morning. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
9:39 a.m. A diver with the New Hanover Sheriff’s Office walks along the Riverwalk late Friday morning. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
10:01 a.m. A diver with the New Hanover Sheriff’s Office prepares to search for a car seen driving launching off the downtown Riverwalk and sinking into the Cape Fear River. Another diver is holding on to the anchor line below the boat. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
1:53 p.m. Divers continue their search after the currents weakened and the tide lowered the water level on the Cape Fear River. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
2:02 p.m. Wilmington residents Sandi Adams, left, and Alice Estey said Friday was the first day the’ve been out to eat lunch in six months, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Although potentially tragic, they said it was fascinating to watch law enforcement’s response. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
2:05 p.m. A WPD spokesperson confirmed rumors that a red wallet had been scooped out of the river sometime around 9 a.m., about 200 feet upriver from an area the divers had searched hours earlier. Later, the wallet was found sitting on the deck of The George patio, a section the restaurant had reserved for the WPD. According to Williams, it was deemed “not evidence,” and an officer soon removed the wallet from the patio.
2:12 p.m. A member of the NHCSO diving unit walks along the Riverwalk. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
2:22 p.m. A WPD officer holds the line while a NHCSO diver works underwater.
2:23 p.m. A man who appears to be with the U.S. Marshals Service walks along the Riverwalk Friday afternoon.
2:57 p.m. A NHSCO diver is helped onto the boat after the car was attached to a buoy marker. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
4:49 p.m. Customers and staff of The George at the Riverwalk restaurant look on as a large river barge uses a crane to lift the boat out of the water. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
4:52 p.m. The car is first seen emerging from the river late Friday afternoon. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
4:53 p.m. People along the Riverwalk watch as the car is lifted out of the river. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
5:05 p.m. Hundreds of people lined the Riverfront to watch a crane from a river barge lift the boat from the water. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
The Henrietta passes by the partly extracted car early Friday evening. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
5:08 p.m. A New Hanover Sheriff’s deputy points at the car as a crew on the river barge watch. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
5:10 p.m. A New Hanover Sheriff’s deputy looks on as the car the car remains halfway submerged. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

Send tips and comments to the reporter at mark@localvoicemedia.com

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