Search halted for missing swimmers

Rough waters have forced police to temporarily suspend the search for three swimmers who went missing Sunday in a remote area of the Muskoka region in central Ontario.

MACTIER, Ont. — Rough waters have forced police to temporarily suspend the search for three swimmers who went missing Sunday in a remote area of the Muskoka region in central Ontario.

OPP Sgt. Greg Allison says the strong current at Moon River Falls is too dangerous for diving but the search will resume tomorrow morning.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Ontario Hydro are shutting off the water flow upstream, but it could take more than 24 hours for torrents of water to stop pouring over the falls because the dam is kilometres away.

Lake Muskoka, Lake Rosseau and Lake Joseph all drain into Moon River Falls.

Allison says one diver entered the water this morning on a rope, but the water flow made it too dangerous to continue.

At least five friends and family members of the missing people gathered on one side of the river where the three Toronto-area residents are presumed drowned.

Allison says a coroner was also at the scene.

An OPP helicopter and a dozen provincial police officers with the OPP Underwater Search and Recovery Unit were at the falls this morning to put safety lines in place and try to embark on a search.

Bill McRobb, a local resident, said the group had been staying at a cabin on the lake Sunday when they rented a boat to travel down to Moon River Falls.

The group went for a swim in pooled area between the upper and lower portion of the waterfalls, where the water moved faster than normal and was half a metre higher than usual due to recent heavy rainfall.

Seven people went into the water, but only four came out.

Two suffered minor injuries while two others were airlifted to Parry Sound Hospital after suffering “near-drowning experiences,” said police. They were released Sunday night.

Names of the missing swimmers have not been released. They are presumed drowned.

It’s believed the seven people were in their mid-20s.

The OPP’s Underwater Search and Recovery Unit combed the water for hours looking for the three swimmers until darkness fell Sunday evening.

The site is a popular camping destination about a two-hour drive from Toronto. Numerous tents are set up along Crown land by the river, an area only reachable by boat.

McRobb said beer cans were strewn along the ground by the falls on Sunday.

Local residents told the Toronto Star they feared the stronger currents of the waterfall caused by recent rainfall contributed to the presumed drownings.

“Up at the falls, there are big rocks that you can jump into water, and this time of year with all the rain that we’ve had, the current is quite strong,” said an employee at Moon River Marina.

“The falls are running quite strong up there,” another employee at Moon River Cottages told the newspaper.

A family from Windsor, Ont., stood in the rain with a group of about 20 campers today, waiting for a ride back to the marina. The family has been camping at a site directly across from the falls.

On Sunday, they left the site at 10 a.m. and didn’t return until 5 p.m. By that time, a helicopter, air ambulance and police crews had descended on the area.

They said the incident put a damper on their weekend.

It’s the second incident in the area this long-weekend.

On Friday 46-year-old John-Paul Farrell of Stouffville died after hitting a wave and going overboard while boating in Loon Lake near Gravenhurst.

The OPP said Farrell was not wearing a life jacket.

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