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Toddler missing, woman killed after boat overturns on Susquehanna River

Written by Brandie Kessler/The York Daily Record | May 9, 2018 7:15 AM
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Kent Collins, left, speaks with Darrin Kephart, a waterways conservation officer with the state fish and boat commission at the Steelton river access area on Tuesday afternoon. Late Monday night, a woman and a dog were killed after their boat overturned on the Susquehanna River in the area of the Dock Street dam. A man who was on the boat was able to call 911. A 3-year-old girl who was on the boat was still missing as of Tuesday afternoon. (Photo: Brandie Kessler, York Daily Record)

(Harrisburg) -- A search of the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg to look for a missing three-year-old girl was suspended around noon Tuesday, according to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

At around 10 p.m. Monday, a man called 911 to report an incident in the river. The man, a woman, their three-year-old daughter and a dog were on a jon boat in the area of the Dock Street dam in Harrisburg when the boat flipped. The dog and the woman died, and their bodies were recovered somewhere between the dam and the Steelton boat access area.

Pennlive says it spoke with family members, who identified the deceased woman as Mary Bredbenner. Cody Binkley, 26, of Palmyra, survived and is being treated for hypothermia at a hospital. The daughter, Madelyn Binkley, remains missing.

Waterways Conservation Officer Darrin Kephart said the boat was recovered in the churning water near the dam, which is called the boil. That indicates the boat flipped close to the dam.

A low-head dam is a "drowning machine," Kephart said, citing language used on the commission's website. It's because of the way the water below the dam flows and pushes things that surface back underneath into a continuous cycle that can be nearly impossible to escape.

"Any of us with a life jacket on would not survive" being dumped into the water below the Dock Street dam in the right conditions, Kephart said to a group of reporters gathered at the Steelton boat access area.

Search and rescue teams were on the river from around 10 p.m. Monday until about noon Tuesday, when they suspended the search operation. Many of the search and rescue members are volunteers who have full-time jobs, Kephart said.

Along with the bodies of the woman and the dog, search teams found "camping debris," Kephart said, which indicates the family was looking to camp somewhere along the river. He noted that the man "was an avid fisherman.

The family had put their boat in the water at the Middletown boat access area, and some of the search and rescue teams started in Middletown and worked their way north, Kephart said. State police helicopters, K-9s and about 50 to 60 investigators participated in the efforts overnight.

Kent Collins, of Middletown, who has fished in the Susquehanna River for about 40 years, showed up at the Steelton access area on Tuesday afternoon because he wanted to help search.

"It stung me when I got the news" of the incident and that a 3-year-old girl was missing, Collins said. He's been out to help look for friends who went missing on the river before. It's scary to set out and know that he could possibly find a body, he said, but he still felt the need to do it.

"Someone needs to find her," he said. "It's the basic human thing. If no one would look, no one would find her."

Kephart said that all boat incidents where someone is hurt or killed are investigated. The fish and boat commission officers have the same authority as police officers and in cases when someone is hurt or killed in a fishing or boating incident, officers can charge someone if criminal charges are found to be appropriate.

Early Tuesday evening, the Dauphin County District Attorney's office issued a news release indicating it wanted to talk with anyone who might have witnesses the incident. 

In it's release, the office said the woman's body and that of the family's pet dog was found in the area of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Bridge. Anyone with information or who might have witnessed the events that led to the boat capsizing should contact Dauphin County Detective John C. O'Connor at JO'Connor@dauphinc.org.

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The York Daily Record. 

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