A car with five young people inside plunged into a Delaware canal on Sunday and the driver helped a teenage girl to safety before dying in a bid to rescue three relatives, two of whom were found dead after the car was hoisted from the water, authorities said.
Delaware State Police said they initially found the body of the 18-year-old male driver in the water after he had helped a 16-year-old girl make it safely to shore. A police statement said two more passengers, boys ages 12 and 16, were pronounced dead hours later after the car they were riding in was recovered Sunday afternoon.
The final passenger, a 6-year-old boy, was not found and remained unaccounted for late Sunday, police added.
Authorities said they are investigating how the car ended up in the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal at about 9:40 a.m. Sunday. A state police spokesman, Master Cpl. Michael Austin, praised the teen driver at a news conference, saying he had sought to rescue the others.
"He was a hero," Austin said. "He tried to do everything he could to help the remaining passengers in that vehicle."
The driver and the boys were related and that the girl was an acquaintance, Austin said. All were Delaware residents but none were immediately identified pending notification of relatives.
"They're holding up but it's not going to be easy," relative Rudolph Jones told NBC Philadelphia. "It's going to stay with them."
The driver worked to free the girl, who first responders later found sitting on the banks of the canal after a bystander had called 911, the Delaware News Journal first reported. Crews from multiple law enforcement agencies then worked for hours to remove the car from the canal, pulling it out after 5 p.m. in what was described as a multi-agency recovery operation.
The canal is about 35 feet deep, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
State police said the situation unfolded about a mile west of a State Route 1 bridge in Delaware.
The driver's body was found in the waters a short time after emergency responders were called and the bodies of the two boys were discovered in the vehicle when it was pulled out of the waters hours later, police said. They added that they continue the searching for the missing 6-year-old.
Police, fire, maritime units and a dive team and paramedics all took part in the effort. Authorities said a state police collision reconstruction unit is continuing to investigate how the car went into the canal.