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Search for missing fishermen in New Milford enters tragic new phase

It has been a multi-agency effort and they’ve devoted lots of manpower and equipment, but so far, still no sign of the two men

NEW MILFORD, Conn. — Tragedy on the water. It’s been nearly 24 hours since crews began their search for two missing fishermen who disappeared into the waters of the Housatonic River in Litchfield County. Their identities have not been released.

It has been a multi-agency effort and they’ve devoted lots of manpower and equipment, but so far, still no sign of the two men. On Thursday, the operation officially entered a new and tragic phase.

While eagle eyes searched from above via a helicopter, a flotilla of first responders in boats scoured the surface.

"Today we’re here unfortunately in a recovery mode," explained New Milford Police Chief Spencer Ceruto. That’s code for presumed dead.

Grant Moxham of Newtown said, "That’s crazy to me. I’m sorry for their families. That’s awful."

Police say the men were living in Danbury and are of Ecuadorian descent. Police added their identities will be released after they tell the men's families. 

RELATED: 2 men missing after falling into Housatonic River in New Milford

8:30 PM — Wednesday...it was getting dark. A 23-year-old man and a 36-year-old man were fishing on a rocky outcrop of the Housatonic River in New Milford. One fell in, the other jumped in to save the first. Both became the victim of the deceptively dangerous undertow.

Edward Staudenmayer, who works in the area, said: "The water goes up and down and sometimes you can really see it flowing and the rapids are crazy."

All day Thursday the search continued. This area of the Housatonic River is known as Bleachery Dam. It's a popular fishing spot.

"Ever since I can remember people have been fishing over there," said Moxham.

But its danger is well documented.

"It would be a bad place to fall in or be fishing," said Staudenmayer.

In 1964, it even claimed the life of New Milford Police Officer Harmon Couch. His memorial dedicated at police headquarters. Couch lost his life at the dam while trying to rescue a man and his 13-year-old son after their boat capsized.

"Wherever there is a dam obviously there are undercurrents so while it may look calm on one side of the dam, if you look on the other the currents go down and can actually pull somebody under. They have to be aware of the dangers," said Ceruto.

RELATED: 'Final farewell to our brother' | Worcester officer who died trying to save drowning teen laid to rest

On Thursday, the gate leading to the Bleachery dam was open. Signs at the water's edge warn boaters of the danger. The surrounding land is a mix of municipal-owned land, state land, and private property.

"We’re going to continue to search until we find them," said Ceruto.

Crews will have to stop searching once it gets dark. Dive teams are equipped with wet suits, long polls, and sonar to troll the bottom and look for anomalous objects.

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