NEWS

No sign of worker who fell from Ambassador Bridge

01/12/2012 02:02 EST | Updated 03/12/2012 05:12 EDT

The U.S. Coast Guard said late Wednesday its search for a painter who plunged from the Ambassador Bridge into the Detroit River earlier in the day has been ended.

Detroit police were expected to continue their search for in daylight Thursday.

The coast guard got a call at 1:45 p.m. and deployed two boats and a helicopter to search for the man, who was identified later by officials as Kent Morton, 27, of Garden City, Mich.

The Detroit police dive team and a boat equipped with sonar joined the search for the fallen worker. The Michigan State Police deployed a helicopter.

Construction equipment dangled from the bridge in the hours after the incident.

Morton's family was still waiting by the river for news Wednesday evening. "We hope, pray, we hope everybody prays to find his body just so we can have some closure," his brother Shane Morton told reporters. "Whether he's dead or alive, I want to kiss my baby brother's head one more time."

At that point, the search had continued for more than nine hours.

Coast guard chief Gabriel Settel said witnesses saw Morton fall into the water. The painter was last seen wearing work coveralls.

It is not known whether he was wearing a safety harness.

According to Randy Spader, the Ambassador Bridge's manager of operations, the man was working for a subcontractor of Seaway Painting of Livonia, Mich.

"First and foremost, our concern is for the man who fell this afternoon." Spader said. "We are praying for a positive outcome to this accident. I really don't know how this happened. We know the risk involved in this kind of work, and our contractors abide by the highest safety standards."

Settel said the Detroit River's temperature was 2.7 C at the time of the fall and that an average male can survive in the water of that temperature for up to seven hours.

Coast guard, state police and Detroit police were crisscrossing the river using sonar that can pick up shapes along the bottom of the river.

It's not known how far the man fell, but at its apex, the 82-year-old bridge stands 46 metres above water.

The bridge remained open to traffic, which was moving smoothly just before rush hour.

Almost $500 million US in trade crosses the Ambassador Bridge on a daily basis. It is the busiest border crossing in North America, with an average of 28,814 trucks crossing the border daily in 2010.

Similar plunge in 2000

A similar fall happened on Nov. 14, 2000, when Jamie Barker, a painter from Windsor, fell from the bridge into the river. His body was recovered from the river on April 6, 2001.

Barker was working for Manz Contracting Services.

Manz owner Dave Batten told CBC News on Wednesday that his company does not have workers on the bridge at this time.

Two painters were rescued in June 2001 after scaffolding on the bridge collapsed, leaving them dangling 45 metres above the water below.

The men were painting a thick metal cable on the American side of the bridge when the scaffolding let go. Witnesses saw debris fall from the bridge and heard the men yelling for help.

After Barker's death, a coroner's inquest made 50 recommendations to improve the safety of people working on the bridge.

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