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One drowning victim found in Wilmington

Search continues for second swimmer

June 26, 2014
By MATTHEW TURNER ( , Lake Placid News

WILMINGTON - One of a pair of missing swimmers was found dead by first responders in the AuSable River on Thursday. The other remains missing.

A major water rescue operation took place at the Flume, a popular waterfall and swimming hole on the West Branch of the AuSable River. One hundred rescuers from multiple agencies were on the scene, forest ranger Capt. John Streiff said later at a press conference.

The state police reported a teenager was found dead Thursday night.

Article Photos

Cliff Holzer Jr. of Wilmington fire department scans the river downstream, close to a nearby waterfall. Holzer was one of about 100 first responders on scene for the water search.
(Photo — Matthew Turner

The drowning victim has been identified as Taoufik Maknani, 17, of Plattsburgh. Essex County Coroner Francis Whitelaw responded to the scene and transported the victim to Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake, where an autopsy is scheduled for Friday.

"With the amount of rain we had over the past few days here, upwards of 2 to 3 inches, it's not the best time to be in swift moving water," Streiff said. "It can be very dangerous."

The search for the other missing swimmer continued, in an area of the river between the Flume and the Wilmington town beach, about a mile-and-a-half downstream.

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"We have a combined, coordinated effort, and we will continue until darkness," Streiff said.

State police and forest rangers each received multiple calls around 2:10 p.m. saying someone was in distress, state police Capt. John Tibbitts Jr. said at the press conference at the Wilmington firehouse. He said the lost swimmers were part of a group of less than a dozen people. Authorities said they didn't know exactly how many but that it was a small group who were from northern New York, but not the Wilmington area.

Tibbitts couldn't comment on whether the swimmers were jumping off rock cliffs at the Flume. He said that was part of the ongoing investigation.

During the river search, rescue divers could be seen along the river from the Flume trailhead on state Route 86, and a helicopter was in the air. At one point a state police officer escorted a wet teenage boy away from the Flume area; another teenage boy sat in a state police sport-utility vehicle.

The Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department's rescue boat was put in at the Wilmington beach. The Wilmington, Upper Jay and Keeseville fire departments were also there, as were state forest rangers and multiple state police divisions.

"The North Country turns out for times like this," Streiff said. "We actually had to turn some (first responders) back."

During those first few hours of the search, conflicting reports circulated about who the rescuers were looking for and what they found. When Wilmington town Supervisor Randy Preston was asked what happened, he responded, "Not a good result."

Emergency personnel from several fire departments had left the scene by 5 p.m. At 5:40, state police issued a press release saying a group of people were swimming at the Flume and that two were unaccounted for.



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