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Search for teen in Wichita's Big Ditch called off as darkness falls

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, August 9, 2013, at 1:12 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, August 12, 2013, at 9:45 p.m.

Emergency crews searched the Big Ditch until dusk Friday but were unable to locate a 14-year-old boy who went under hours earlier while swimming in rushing waters in west Wichita.

Wichita police said the 14-year-old was swimming off the east bank of the Big Ditch with at least two other teenage boys 200 to 300 yards south of the Zoo Boulevard bridge. The boy went under shortly after 12:30 p.m., police said, and it was 12:52 p.m. before the other boys were able to reach a phone and call 911.

Police said several witnesses said the boy went under after being pulled down by the weight of his clothes.

Shortly after 1 p.m., all available police officers were called to the scene to walk along the banks to search the waters swollen by heavy rains in recent weeks. The search continued into the evening as emergency crews with binoculars scanned the waters from bridges downstream from where the boy went under.

Boats that were being used near the entry point were pulled out of the water late in the afternoon and sent to scour the waters farther south. At 5 p.m., fire crews were concentrating their search between 47th and 55th Streets South, several miles south of where the boy is thought to have gone under.

Richard Harris, a battalion chief with the Wichita Fire Department, said the water in the Big Ditch was moving at 5 to 7 mph near the Zoo Boulevard bridge where the boy went under.

“It’s extremely fast,” he said. “It’s cold. It’s hard on our crews, too.”

More than a dozen of the boy’s relatives and friends gathered at a police department command post near Zoo Boulevard. They left the area shortly after 4:30 p.m., and fire crews left the area soon after that.

Wichita police and Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputies were joined in the search by officers from Maize, Goddard, Mid-Continent Airport and the Kansas Highway Patrol.

Earlier this week, officials said the Big Ditch was flowing at the rate of 7,000 cubic feet per second. More rain has fallen since that figure was provided.

Contributing: Roy Wenzl of The Eagle

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rickplumlee.

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