As the search for a missing girl who fell into the river near Michell Ont., continues into its fifth day, crews are moving more downstream.
Police officers and fire crews from multiple jurisdictions were searching the Thames River between Mitchell and St. Marys Thursday.
“We’ve had crews that were moving south from Mitchell, and St. Mary’s crews that were moving north from St. Marys, they actually met up so we’ve been able now to walk both sides of the Thames River,” said West Perth Fire Chief Bill Hunter.
Hunter said while they continue to double- and triple-check all areas, on Thursday they were focused on the 26 kilometres along the Thames River between Mitchell and St. Marys.
The search for the unnamed girl began on Sunday after provincial police say they received a report that a child had fallen into Whirls Creek near Mitchell around 10:30 a.m. The creek flows westward toward Mitchell, where it joins with the southward Thames River.
First responders, including members of multiple OPP units, have been searching the creek and river for any signs of the girl alongside fire crews from the West Perth, North Perth, Perth East, Perth West and St. Mary’s departments.
“Since Sunday we have been rotating in crews from other stations in Perth County to give the West Perth firefighters a bit of a break so that they’re not out there every single day this week doing it. If the search extends into tomorrow we’ve got some firefighters coming up from Oxford County to help,” Hunter said.
“We’ve had offers of support from fire departments all around the province, even one fire department outside of the province contacted us and offered their services, so it certainly makes you feel good inside to know that we’ve got all this support behind us.”
In a tweet Thursday a joint account belonging to the Perth East and West Perth fire departments showed the OPP helicopter taking off from Kinsman Park to fly over the river.
Tweets from the same account on Wednesday indicated that “water levels had dropped considerably,” and that fire crews were continuing to search the shore alongside OPP divers and the police helicopter.
“We’re trying not to physically (burn out) anybody. Obviously, there’s the mental and emotional aspect of it,” Hunter said.
As the search continues, Hunter said crews have had access to an internal peer support team since Sunday, and that the local chaplain has been on the scene with them during the search.
Mitchell is a small community of around 5,000 in West Perth, about 20 kilometres northeast of Stratford and around 60 kilometres north of London, Ont.
“For the last going on now five days it’s devastated our little community, were really tight-knit community and everybody kind of knows one another,” said West Perth Mayor, Walter McKenzie.
In the last few days, McKenzie said community members have started lining the bridges that go over the creek where the little girl fell in with teddy bears.
“It’s an awful thing to have happen to a community, and I think we’re coping as well as we can. It’s hard, and certainly, people will do anything. They would love to help,” he said.
Emergency crews have asked that residents not participate in the search, as the area around the river can be hazardous.
Hunter said the community has been showing support in other ways, such as bringing first responders food and coffee as they work.
When asked how long crews would continue searching Hunter said they were looking at it on a “day to day basis.”
“We look at the areas that have been covered. We also look at the weather. Right now, the weather for Saturday is not looking too good for a ground search or an air search, so there are several factors that we would take into consideration.”
– with files from Global News’ Matthew Trevithick, Kelly Wang and Kevin Nielsen
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