MIDDLETOWN, Del. — A car plunged into a Delaware canal on Sunday and the 18-year-old male driver helped a teenage girl to safety before dying in an attempt to rescue three other boys, two of whom were found dead after the car was pulled from the water, authorities said.
A third boy remained unaccounted for late Sunday and a search continued.
Delaware State Police said five people in all were in the car when it went into the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal shortly after 9:40 a.m. Sunday. Police said a 16-year-old female passenger was safely helped to shore by the driver before the 18-year-old re-entered the waters seeking the three other passengers.
The driver’s body was found in the waters a short time later by emergency responders and the bodies of two more boys, ages 12 and 16, were still in the vehicle when it was pulled from the canal shortly after 5 p.m. Sunday, state police said in a statement. They said a 6-year-old boy also riding in the car wasn’t located inside it when it was removed and the child remains missing.
None of the victims were immediately identified, pending notification of relatives. State police said the search for the missing 6-year-old was continuing.
State police are investigating how the car ended up in the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. A state police spokesman, Master Cpl. Michael Austin, praised the teen driver, who was found dead in the canal, for having sought to rescue the others.
“He was a hero,” Austin said at a news conference Sunday afternoon. “He tried to do everything he could to help the remaining passengers in that vehicle.”
The man worked to free the girl, who first responders later found sitting on the banks of the canal after a bystander called 911, the Delaware News Journal reported. Crews from multiple law enforcement agencies worked for hours to remove the car from the water Sunday in what was being described as a recovery operation — and not a rescue operation.
Austin said the male driver and the boys were related and that the girl was an acquaintance. All were Delaware residents.
The canal is about 35 feet deep, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Police, fire, maritime units and a dive team and paramedics all took part in the effort.
Authorities said a state police collision reconstruction unit is continuing to investigate how the car went into the canal about a mile west of a State Route 1 bridge.