01/12/2012 10:11 EST | Updated 03/13/2012 05:12 EDT

Bridge painter's family reacts to his 40-metre fall

The family of a painter who plummeted from the Ambassador Bridge say they just want him found, 'whether he's dead or alive.'

Kent Morton, 27, fell more than 40 metres into the cold Detroit River just before 2 p.m. Wednesday.

"Whether he's dead or alive, I want to kiss my baby brother's head one more time," Shane Morton said. "We hope everybody prays to find his body, just so we can have some closure."

Shane Morton said his brother was a hard worker with a smart-alec personality.

The U.S. Coast Guard called off its search for Morton at 9:15 p.m. Wednesday and will not join the search Thursday.

Coast guard chief David Settel said the agency will only join if other agencies ask it to do so.

The Detroit police were to resume searching for Morton at 8 a.m. Thursday in rainy, foggy and cool conditions.

Settel said the water was 2.7 C when Morton fell and that the river's current is usually between 3½ and seven km/h.

"There's nothing anyone can do when somebody goes into that river," Shane Morton said.

Survival unlikely

Settel said the coast guard's computer models suggest a man of Morton's age and build could survive up to seven hours in the water overnight.

"If he was treading water overnight, he would be pretty tired and cold. But there are weird situations that take place," Settel said.

"We know he's in heaven for sure," said Morton's mother, Fawn Salvatore. "He raised his daughter, he had custody of her and he raised his daughter, and was a wonderful father."

Morton had planned to watch his seven-year-old daughter receive an award from her church Wednesday night after work.

"We're going to raise his daughter. He was a great father and we're going to step in and play that role for her," Shane Morton said.

Shane Morton said his brother and girlfriend were also expecting a child.

Morton was working for a subcontractor of Seaway Painting, a Michigan company hired by the Ambassador Bridge to paint the span.

Wednesday's incident was similar to one that occurred in 2000, when Jamie Barker was painting for a subcontractor hired by Manz Contracting and fell from the bridge into the river.

Dave Batten, the president of Manz Contracting, said the incident caused him to have flashbacks of Barker's death. Batten knows the owner of Seaway and said his son has worked with Morton.

"It's pretty gut-wrenching. He's a wonderful guy. The contracting firm has a tremendous record. We do work for them on occasion and we did work with them on the Ambassador Bridge," Batten said.

"When we were doing the bridge, they did the American we did the Canadian side. [They're] just a real good group of guys and a first-class outfit."