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Six More Bodies Found in River Tragedy

From Times Wire Services

Searchers found six more bodies in the churning Guadalupe River on Saturday, bringing the death toll to eight and leaving two missing after a bus and van from a church camp were swamped by floodwaters.

About 500 people, backed by helicopters, National Guardsmen, scuba divers and specially trained dogs, fanned out along the river, which had returned to its normal level but was a rushing torrent when the accident occurred Friday.

Authorities, hampered by mud and extreme heat, rummaged through belongings taken from the vehicles, while anxious parents and survivors wept and watched the search from the banks.

Several teams slowly paddled rubber rafts nearly 15 miles down the river, untangling piles of sleeping bags, clothing and brush that hung from trees.

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Little Hope for Missing

“You always hope for the best,” said Mike Rogers, a Department of Public Safety dispatcher in nearby Kerrville, but officials had little hope that the missing would be found alive.

Late Saturday, searchers found a body 18 miles downstream from the accident. Earlier, they had pulled the bodies of two 16-year-olds, a boy and a girl, from the slate-gray waters. They also found three bodies about six miles from the accident, authorities said.

The bodies of two teen-age girls, also among the 43 people on the vehicles from the Seagoville Road Baptist Church in Balch Springs, were recovered Friday.

Meanwhile, authorities said they had brought the drivers of the two vehicles to the scene of the tragedy and determined that the two were not attempting to cross the river as authorities had believed.

Troopers said at a news conference that the bus was 182 feet from the low-water crossing when it attempted to turn left, parallel to the river, and follow three other buses to a higher paved road, through water that had washed up onto the river’s bank.

Vehicles Stalled

But the vehicles stalled in the rapidly rising water and passengers got out and tried to scramble to land. Pounding waves of water scattered the group and washed the bus and van away.

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During Friday’s rescue, workers plucked several screaming, horror-stricken youngsters from the muddy waters, hours after the bus and van were stranded.

Youngsters clung to branches, praying and singing, and formed a human chain in the cold, swiftly flowing river. One girl plunged 100 feet to her death after losing her grip on a rope dangled from a helicopter, authorities said.

One youth said he was helped to safety by hitching a ride aboard a frightened deer swimming across the raging river.

“The deer just came up under me and I held on tight,” said Chris Ray, 17. He said the muscular animal fought the current and pushed him toward a tree that he clung to until a helicopter rescued him.

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“The group in our tree, we started praying--asking the Lord to help us all to be OK,” survivor Kyle Hankins said.

‘He Saved My Life’

The Dallas Times Herald reported that another survivor, John Hernandez, 13, of Dallas, said: “I was floating in the water when my friend Scott Chatham grabbed my arm and pulled me up in a tree. He saved my life.”

Before he found a tree to cling to, Chatham, 16, of Seagoville, a sophomore at Balch Springs Christian Academy, said he wanted to help two girls he saw being pulled down the river by the current.

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“I couldn’t get her (one of the girls); the undercurrent was taking me under,” he said. “It pulled me under one time real good, and I didn’t think I’d make it back up.

“I finally made it back up and that’s when I saw that tree and (grabbed) onto it. . . . Then I looked back and the bus and our van were completely gone,” he said.

The vehicles were bound from Camp Pot o’ Gold, a children’s camp, to a rafting expedition, said Richard Koons, 26, the church’s youth minister who was driving the bus. He said the youngsters were not being evacuated.

Friends and family members conducted a prayer service Saturday morning at the Balch Springs church.

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