Texas soldier drowns during border rescue attempt

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A Texas National Guard soldier drowned early Friday in Rio Grande while trying to rescue migrants struggling with rapid currents as they crossed the border, according to state officials.

Lieutenant Christopher Olivarez of the Texas Department of Public Safety said the guard member was part of the Border Security Initiative Operation Lone Star, which was commissioned by Governor Greg Abbott (R). Olivarez said the guard member was carried away by the current during the rescue attempt near Eagle Pass, Tex., A border town about 140 miles southwest of San Antonio.

Strong river currents have resulted in at least 10 drownings this week alone, Olivarez said. Eagle Pass officials said in recent weeks they have seen an increase in crossings from Piedras Negras, Mexico, the city on the opposite side of the Rio Grande from Eagle Pass.

Officials have not found the soldier’s body. The Texas Military Department confirmed that a soldier had disappeared, but did not confirm reports of a death and called them fake.

“The Texas Military Department, Texas DPS and the Border Patrol are working quickly to find the soldier,” a statement released Friday said.

The department said more details will be released when they become available.

Jon Anfinsen, local president of the Border Patrol Association in the Del Rio sector, said the young soldier reacted when he saw a woman in distress, according to calls he received from agents. The soldier pulled off his armor, laid down his rifle and jumped into the river after her.

The woman survived, Anfinsen said. But the soldier has not been seen since.

National Guard members stationed at the border typically line up their equipment on the riverbank. It is not clear if the soldier was wearing buoyancy aids. The water level varies from knee to chin high. A body was found but it does not appear to be related to the soldier’s disappearance, three officials confirmed.

Eleven bodies have been found from the U.S. side of this stretch of river – which stretches across Del Rio to the west – the union leader said, and at least 12 were found on the Mexican side this month alone. It is a tragedy that weighs on the border patrol’s agents, Anfinsen added.

“Sometimes migrants are seen using an inner tube, but in this part of the river people are holding hands and crossing into a human chain. If they step into a hole, that’s it, ”he said. “The river looks calm and passable, but it moves fast and deceives.”

A diving team from the border patrol and state troops help with the search. Several hours have passed since the soldier was last seen around noon.

Border Patrol agents rescued a dozen people in the same area last week after “the group was dispersed after being swept away from their feet by the rapid current,” according to a statement from Del Rio sector spokesman Dennis Smith.

“Agents acted quickly and deployed buoys and lifebuoys. The boat unit made several trips to the boat ramp and brought the subjects to safety.”

Eagle Pass’s mayor lamented the wave of deaths.

“There are just so many people crossing, many holding children and older ladies crossing, and we do not know if they can swim at all,” said Mayor Rolando Salinas, confirming that the search was for the 22-year-old male soldier. “Most of the time people cross when the water is shallow, but in Spanish we call it Rio Bravo because it’s really unpredictable.”

Earlier this month, a 14-year-old from Honduras died while trying to cross the Rio Grande with his cousins ​​and sister near the same border town. The teens were traveling to be reunited with their family in Houston, but his sister lost her grip on Cristopher Alvarado Sabillón in the dark water, according to NBC News.

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