After tourist death, rescue dive team talks dangers of icy water - KMSP-TV

After tourist death, rescue dive team talks dangers of icy water

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

A woman visiting Chicago from Texas fell into the Chicago River and, despite a valiant effort by fire department divers, died.

It happened just east of the Michigan Avenue bridge around 3:40 a.m. Tuesday morning,

Alicia Garnett, who friends called Keisha, went out for a walk early Tuesday morning because she could not sleep a friend from Dallas said.

Garnett went out with another woman and walked along the south side of the Chicago River, where is appears she fell over the railing and into the icy water as her friend watched helplessly.

"I was driving just down this street, the girl was hysteric outside so we called the police for her straight away," Hailey Barham, a witness to the scene said.

The head of the Fire Department Dive Team would not talk specifically about the attempts to rescue Garnett out of respect for her family, but he did describe the challenges divers face when the river is covered with ice.

"It's really dangerous diving, that overhead environment doesn't allow us access to the surface. We end up cutting holes in the ice, going through those holes and have to exit back through those same holes, so tether lines on our divers actually become lifelines at that point," Ron Dorneker, Deputy District Chief of Marine and Dive Operations said.

Divers wear thermal-lined, vulcanized rubber suits with full face masks with communications gear inside. They are trained on speed because, in rescue situations like the one Tuesday morning, time is critical.

"One of our divers should be fully suited up, ready to be stepped into the water in less than four minutes," Dorneker said.

At the fire department training center, a dive team practiced search techniques this afternoon with a tarp simulating the ice.

"We don't know when we are going to get called out, we don't know where we're gonna dive, but we know that we have to be ready for that so training's really important," Dorneker said.

For Keisha Garnett, who was in the water for 15 minutes, divers best efforts Tuesday were not enough to save her.

Keisha's friend describes her as a good person, kind hearted, really friendly and outspoken. She lived with her mother and brothers and worked as a housekeeper.

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