In a daring mission just yards from the brink of Niagara Falls, U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew members on Wednesday pulled a woman’s body from a vehicle almost completely submerged in the frigid rapids.
Those in the area started calling authorities around noon local time after seeing a black vehicle floating down the Niagara river, New York State Park Police Capt. Chris Rola said. A person seen inside wasn’t moving, he added.
“Today, we mourn the loss of a life,” U.S. Coast Guard Great Lakes tweeted Wednesday evening. “We commend the readiness and courage demonstrated today by our crew to effect an 80ft. hoist from a submerged vehicle 20 yards from the top of Niagara Falls in foul weather.”
Temperatures in the area were around freezing and water temperatures were about 43 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
Rola said swift-water rescue crews couldn’t reach the vehicle due to the “inherent danger” and called the U.S. Coast Guard to help. The dramatic rescue was caught in pictures and video posted on social media, that show the car almost completely submerged with only part of the roof and an open trunk hatch visible through the whitewater.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Derrian Duryea, a Detroit-based rescue swimmer, descended from a hovering helicopter, climbed into the car and pulled out the body of its lone occupant, a woman in her 60s, officials from New York’s State Park Police and Coast Guard said.
Video showed Duryea, in an orange suit and with an axe in his left hand, buffeted by winds and spraying water as he was lowered toward the car through falling snow. After slowly spinning and swinging past the car, he was able to grab hold on the passenger side, open the door and disappear inside.
About two minutes later, with water surging around the vehicle and over the precipicedownstream, Duryea emerged and signaled to the helicopter, which then hoisted him and the motionless driver from the water.
“It was an incredible job by the Coast Guard,” Rola said at a news conference. He said rescuers have never been called to a vehicle so close to the edge.
The woman was pronounced dead after being taken ashore.
Rola said it’s unclear how or why the woman drove into the river, but he said the vehicle entered in an area between a pedestrian bridge and vehicle bridge.
Rola said investigators would try to determine whether the vehicle wound up in the water by accident or intentionally. He said the woman lived in the area. Her name was not released pending notification of relatives.
After the rescue, the vehicle remained near the brink of the American Falls, one of three waterfalls that make up Niagara Falls. Onlookers watched as emergency crews prepared to try to pull the vehicle from the water.
Roads in the area were slippery as light snow fell.
Contributing: Associated Press