SIOUX CITY | A vehicle with three bodies inside was pulled from the Missouri River Saturday. Police believe the remains are of a Sioux City family that went missing Monday.
Crews from multiple agencies started the massive dive operation at 9 a.m. and drew a crowd of more than 100 along the river near the site of the former Argosy riverboat casino where a car believed to carrying Angelica Gonzales, 41, Salomon Medina, 51, and their daughter Vanessa Medina, 17, was seen entering the water Monday.
Officials were concerned about dangerous water conditions throughout the week and waited until Saturday when the most resources were available and the safest plan was in place.
Multiple emergency boats were scattered around the water where sonar images located the car hundreds of feet downstream from where it reportedly entered the river.
From shore, a Siouxland Dive Rescue team helped a single diver crawl 20-feet underwater, in total darkness and battling a strong current, to locate the vehicle and hook it up to a wench to be pulled out.
Michael McClennen, with Siouxland Dive Rescue, said the diver, Aaron Lisle, encountered limited visibility, current speeds up to 8 knots and debris that caused tubes to his oxygen supply to tangle. He was underwater for more than an hour.
"You are literally crawling, clawing yourself across the bottom in order to make headway against the current," McClennen said. "It was totally taxing. If you could have heard Aaron on the radio when he got done, he laid on the bank a good five minutes before we even got him to move."
A tow truck then dragged the car about 40 feet to shore and the three bodies were found inside.
Authorities have not identified the victims. The bodies were taken to a local hospital for examination.
Police have been looking for Gonzales, Medina, and their daughter since family members reported them missing Tuesday morning. They had left for the Walmart Supercenter on Floyd Boulevard around 3 p.m. Monday and have not been seen since. Throughout the investigation, cell phone data also placed the family near the river at the time of the accident.
Police confirmed that the submerged car was the Honda Civic the three were traveling in before they went missing.
The recovery was made possible by personnel and equipment from Sioux City police and fire, Meier Towing, Siouxland Dive Rescue and Woodbury County and Dakota County sheriff's offices.
"I can’t begin to thank (Siouxland Dive Rescue) for the job that they did. It was absolutely phenomenal," Sioux City Police Capt. Mark Kirkpatrick said. "Listening to the diver underwater taking to us as he was straining to get across the river was riveting. It was impressive."
There were more than 100 onlookers watching the rescue unfold behind caution tape, both on the Iowa side and Nebraska side of the river. Police updated the crowd regularly. Many people wept once they confirmed there were bodies in the vehicle.
Justin Huffman, of Sioux City, went to watch the recovery effort with his son.
"It is unfortunate. I couldn't imagine what the family is going through, especially with it being a week ... with them down there," he said.