Duisburg A 17-year-old young woman and two girls wanted to go for a swim in the Rhine and were swept away by the river. The young woman drowned, and the children have yet to be found despite major search efforts.
It was 30 degrees Celsius, the sun was shining on the riverbank near Duisburg - the Rhine was flowing along leisurely and looking like a promising place to cool down. Anyone who goes into the water at this point without thinking about the implications can be in acute danger. "The Rhine is a death trap," warn the Duisburg police.
A 17-year-old from Duisburg was carried away by a current in the river while swimming on Wednesday afternoon; she became a drowning victim. Two girls (13 and 14), who were with her in the water, are still missing. Authorities continued to search for them on Thursday with boats, divers and helicopters. "The chances that they are still alive is close to zero," a police spokeswoman said in the afternoon.
The deceased young woman and the two presumed victims come from the Marxloh district of Duisburg. Police are still investigating whether they were related as they had different last names. Passers-by and grieving relatives stood at the site of the drowning incident on Wednesday night and Thursday, very close to a large Thyssenkrupp steel plant. "They are shocked," said the police spokeswoman. Counselors had been helping the relatives, she said.
Search operation lasting hours
On Wednesday afternoon, other swimmers had called the fire department and reported cries of help coming from the young woman. Firefighters, police and DLRG rescuers then launched a search operation that lasted for hours and involved around 160 emergency personnel, two helicopters and several divers.
The 17-year-old was spotted in the water from the air and rescued by a lifeboat. But she died shortly afterwards despite resuscitation attempts. The search for the two younger girls continued. It was not until around 11 p.m. that the rescuers had to give up the search operation because of the darkness. This decision is "always very difficult for the emergency services," said a DLRG spokeswoman.
If the two girls are indeed dead, four people will have already drowned in the Rhine in North Rhine-Westphalia this summer season. Just a few days ago, a 29-year-old man died near the site of this drowning in Rheinberg-Orsoy. The man had gone swimming in the river and called for help after a few meters, according to the police who had reports from witnesses. He had tried to get himself to the shore, but then went under and was no longer visible. His body was found several kilometers to the northwest.
Swimming in the Rhine is life-threatening because of the strong currents and high waves caused by the heavy cargo ships. Even those who are only up to their knees in the water on the shore can be pulled in by the unpredictable currents. The chances of getting out alive are slim, the police repeatedly warn.
Warning about strong currents
"I have absolutely no understanding for parents who let their children play in the water on the shore. This is - to put it bluntly - pure madness," says Michael Blankartz of the Duisburg water police. During the search operation on Thursday, even the professional divers were tethered for safety's sake.
At the same time, despite all warnings, families and even children are seen again and again playing near the water and sometimes in the water, said the police spokesperson. Dramas then suddenly occur - as was the case last summer, also near the site of this recent accident. A four-year-old was pulled into the river by a wave on the shore. His twelve-year-old cousin jumped in after him and held his head above water. Both children drifted off and would not have had a chance - if a skipper had not been behind them in his ferry, lowered the ramp and rescued the children.
In this case a year ago, there was a happy ending with completely exhausted children and relatives crying with relief at the jetty. That is not to be expected this time. As is usual in such cases, the Duisburg authorities have already notified the Dutch authorities. There, downstream, drowned people are often washed ashore.
(Orig. text: Rolf Schraa, dpa, Translation: Carol Kloeppel)