The massive operation to search for the 6-year-old boy who went missing in Massachusetts' Merrimack River Thursday night has been suspended, the Coast Guard said Friday evening.
The decision comes after crews searched 228 square miles for 69 hours.
“It is always a difficult decision to suspend a search and rescue case, and even more painful when children are involved,” said Capt. Kailie Benson, Coast Guard Sector Boston commander. “Considering the extensive search efforts by the Coast Guard and the numerous state and local agencies, along with on scene conditions, I have made the decision to suspend the search for the missing 6-year-old boy."
"Our prayers are with the boy and mother’s family and friends during this time,” Benson added.
The boy's mother drowned trying to save him and his sister on Thursday near the Whittier Bridge.
The incident, which began with a family trip to Deer Island between Newburyport and Amesbury, brought out a major search-and-rescue response looking for people in the water in distress.
The family of six — a mother and father with their four children — were believed to have been fishing or swimming when the boy went into the river, followed by his sister and mother, according to officials.
The mom managed to successfully get her 7-year-old daughter onto the boat, but she was unable to get herself up, officials said.
The woman, whose name has not been released, went under water and did not resurface. Rescuers located the mom and brought her out of the water, but she was unresponsive and not breathing. CPR was administered on scene before she was taken to Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport where she was pronounced dead.
(Read what we know about how the Newburyport drowning incident unfolded.)
The rescue operation transitioned to a recovery just before noon Friday, the Newburyport fire chief said through a spokesperson.
Newburyport Fire Chief Christopher LeClaire had said earlier the search efforts would continue until officials reevaluated their efforts and decided whether to switch from a rescue to a recovery.
"We're continuing to search," he said at the time. "As time goes by, the chances of recovery diminish. We believe we'll be in recovery mode shortly."
All other family members were accounted for, and taken to Seabrook Emergency Room for treatment. They are expected to be okay.
The boy was believed to be on land when he slipped into the water, according to officials.
Several fire departments, a state police dive team, and both state police and Coast Guard boats and helicopters continued to scour the water on Friday morning.
Discussing the search efforts Friday morning, LeClaire said rescuers from throughout the region -- all area departments, harbormasters, coast guard, and police departments -- were assisting in the search.
LeClairesaid the strong current in the river has presented challenges when it comes to the search effort.
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Massachusetts State Police said they were called to assist shortly after 7 p.m., when multiple people were reportedly swept into the Merrimack River near Deer Island at the Amesbury/Newburyport town lines. Police also confirmed one person died in the incident.
Shortly after the Coast Guard announced it had suspended its search Friday, state police said they were ending their search for the day but would resume Saturday.
State police divers and and boats spent roughly 10 hours searching the Merrimack River on Friday, and were joined by divers from the Boston Fire Department.
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Deer Island is an island in the Merrimack River on the Amesbury/Newburyport border that is typically used for recreation like swimming and fishing. LeClaire described the conditions as typical when asked Thursday night, noting the river's quick pace and rocky ledge.
"Typical Merrimack River conditions. Tide at the time was just the end of high tide, the river can be moving at a quick pace. The area is known for fishing and swimming and other recreation, it is a rocky ledge in the river," the fire chief said. "It is quite heavily used this time of year. People are known to fish along the edge along Deer Island."
Authorities originally said they received reports that a boat had run aground in the area, or there was some kind of boating accident, but LeClaire clarified later Thursday that they do not believe a boat was involved.
While the report initially came into the Amesbury Fire Department Thursday, Newburyport Fire has assumed responsibility for the call, officials said. Numerous mutual aid partners were assisting on scene including, Massachusetts Environmental Police, the United States Coast Guard, Massachusetts Department of Fire Services, Cataldo Ambulance, Seacoast Chief Fire Officers Mutual Aid District, Newbury Harbormaster and Amesbury Police.
The Amesbury, Merrimack, Salisbury, Haverhill and East Kingston, New Hampshire, fire departments are also providing aid, and Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Essex District Attorney's Office responded to the scene, as well.
Aerial footage from NBC10 Boston's SkyRanger helicopter showed the massive rescue response to the scene.
Countless first responder vehicles could be seen parked along the bridge, while several boats were in the water, and state police and Coast Guard helicopters were flying overhead.
NBC10 Boston talked with one woman who lives nearby and she said her husband also got into his kayak Thursday evening to help look for the child after he realized what was going on.
"My husband was out here with the dog, and I was like, what's taking so long? And then all of a sudden he's screaming at me, and he's talking about a woman and CPR," said Sue Bajko. "I came out and two fishermen came on our dock here in their boat and they pulled the woman and her daughter out of the boat and did CPR."
According to Mark Bajko, the mom couldn't swim. He says she was being helped by her 7-year-old daughter.
Bajko says he was by his house when he saw the pair in the river, and he jumped into action when the girl stopped crying and said, "my little brother is in the water."
"I said, Oh my God. I got up and ran to get my kayak," he recalled.
The 7-year-old girl who was rescued is doing okay. None of their names have been officially released at this time.
The Lowell Public Schools District said the missing boy is a student at Murkland Elementary School. The superintendent released a statement, saying in part that they're all heartbroken to hear of the family's tragedy.
The Coast Guard said Friday the search for the boy is suspended pending new information. Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to call Sector Boston at 617-223-3201.