The body of a 5-year-old girl with autism who fell into the Stanislaus River on Sunday was found by divers Wednesday afternoon, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department confirmed Wednesday evening.
Rescue workers spent the last four days searching for Matilda Ortiz, who was swept away in the deep, fast-moving river after she slipped off a rock near the 330-foot Knights Ferry covered bridge, which overlooks the river.
Her father jumped into the water to save her but was unable to reach her because of the fast-moving current.
Hikers and other bystanders also tried to rescue the girl, with one man briefly able to grab her clothing before the river’s current ripped her from his hands.
“It doesn’t feel real,” her father told Sacramento’s CBS 13 channel earlier this week. “It feels like a nightmare I just want to wake up from. I want to hug my baby.”
Trained volunteer divers found Matilda’s body near the Knights Ferry Campground about 4:45 p.m. Wednesday.
Since Monday, county officials worked with state agencies to slow the flow of the water from the New Melones Dam to try to lower the river level. Water releases at the dam resumed after the girl’s body was found, and the river’s levels were expected to rise throughout the evening.
The Stanislaus River — which plunges out of the High Sierra through rapids and canyons toward the San Joaquin Valley — was flowing at a rate of about 4,200 cubic feet per second Sunday in the area where Matilda fell in, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
Knights Ferry, once a Gold Rush town, sits next to the river and is a popular site for families and outdoors enthusiasts. Thousands of visitors take rafting trips in the summer and visit the area’s hiking trails.
On Sunday afternoon, as visitors flocked to the site to enjoy the clear weather, the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District was called to the site for a water rescue. There were reports of nine people in the river, unable to get out.
The first boat to arrive recovered one man in a tree. Seven other people got out of the river with help, or on their own. The only person still missing was Matilda.