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Crews search Allegheny River for man who fell from jet ski

| Sunday, July 13, 2014, 11:28 p.m.
Dan Speicher | For Valley News Dispatch
Search and Rescue lead by South Buffalo Township search for an unidentified 40 year old male from Penn Hills, who fell off a jet ski and was pulled below the water, above Murphy's Island on the Allegheny River between Locks 5 and 6 on Sunday July 13, 2014.

Emergency personnel scoured the Allegheny River on Sunday for a Penn Hills man they fear drowned after overturning a personal watercraft in South Buffalo Township.

Authorities were not identifying the missing 40-year-old man, who as of 9 p.m. had not been found.

According to Randy Brozenick, chief of the South Buffalo Volunteer Fire Company, the man was riding a personal watercraft with a young male relative about 4:15 p.m. when it somehow overturned about a mile upriver from Murphy Island. Other family members on a nearby pontoon boat were able to pull the boy from the river, but not the man before he disappeared underwater.

Both were wearing life vests, though the man's was unbuckled, Brozenick said. The life vest was found about an hour later, several hundred feet downriver from where the man went under.

By 5:30 p.m., at least five rescue boats from the area and a dive team from Murrysville were searching the river. Allegheny County rescuers joined the search about 7 p.m. with search dogs and sonar equipment.

Brozenick said the search dogs appeared to pick up a scent about 300 yards downriver from where the man was last seen, but found no signs of a definitive location. Rescue teams focused on the area based on the timing of the incident and the speed of the river's current, which rescuers determined to be around 5 mph.

“Despite the heavy rainfall today, the river isn't moving all that much faster,” he said. “This river does have an undertow, though, and that right now is the concern.”

The search was suspended about 9 p.m. as darkness fell over the stretch of river and weather forecasts predicted further storms.

The man disappeared before the stormy weather reached South Buffalo and it did not factor into the incident, according to Brozenick. By the family's account, he said, the personal watercraft was in good working order and the missing man was a strong swimmer.

Westmoreland County, Harrison, Freeport, Gilpin, Vandergrift, Leechburg and Armstrong County emergency crews assisted in the response. The search is scheduled to continue early Monday.

“We're doing everything we possibly can to find this guy for his family,” Brozenick said. “We're in recovery mode.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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