Search continues for man who plunged from Gervais Street bridge

akflanagan@thestate.com, nophillips@thestate.comApril 10, 2014 

— Rescue workers resumed the search of the Congaree River Friday for a man who plunged into the river from the Gervais Street bridge.

"DNR is out searching now, and they will continue to search until they find him," Capt. Robert McCullough, a DNR spokesman, said Friday.

Rescue workers searched the river until darkness fell Thursday night.

Witnesses along the West Columbia Riverwalk reported hearing a splash and seeing a man, who appeared to be injured, floating in the swift moving current.

Jon Person, a contractor from out of town, had the day off and went to the river with some friends.

“I didn’t see anything, but a friend who was with me said, “Someone fell in the river,’” Person said.

The men saw someone floating down the river, and the person looked to be alive but hurt. He was not flailing in the water, Person said.

“We came down here to relax and enjoy the beautiful day until this happened,” Person said.

Reports of the fall came shortly after 10 a.m. and rescue workers spent the rest of the day searching by air, water and land.

Police closed the Gervais Street bridge for several hours, causing traffic to snarl on Gervais and Huger streets and on side roads in West Columbia and Cayce as people sought alternative routes across the river.

Police were unable to say whether the man jumped from the bridge or accidentally fell over the side, said Jennifer Timmons, a Columbia Police Department spokesman.

No one actually reported seeing the person go over the side, she said.

The chocolate brown river water made visual searches difficult. And the high, fast-moving water made conditions dangerous for divers.

The Lexington County Sheriff’s Department flew its helicopter up and down the river, often hovering low over the water. A S.C. Department of Natural Resources airplane swooped back and forth, too.

Multiple boats were launched for the search. Other agencies participating in the search included West Columbia, Cayce and USC police.

The Columbia Fire Department cleared the scene around 3 p.m., said Brick Lewis, a fire department spokesman.

Capt. Robert McCullough, a DNR spokesman, said his agency’s rescue workers planned to stay on the river until dark, returning at first light Friday if necessary.

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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