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Men Who Fell In Miss. River Likely Dead: Coast Guard

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MISSISSIPPI RIVER
Danita Delimont via Getty Images

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Authorities on Thursday called off the search for two men who fell off a Mississippi River barge that overturned in northeastern Arkansas earlier this week, saying both are presumed to have been killed.

Capt. William Drelling, the commander for the U.S. Coast Guard in Sector Lower Mississippi, said searchers haven't seen any sign of Juan Nieves or Nicolas Perez, who have been missing since the barge capsized Tuesday. When asked if he thought they were still alive, Drelling said, "If we thought they were, we'd still be searching."

Nieves and Perez fell into the water when the barge flipped over while unloading about 700,000 pounds of steel coil at a Kinder Morgan terminal near Blytheville, which is about 60 miles north of Memphis, Tenn.

Investigators don't know what caused the barge to capsize.

A ten-mile portion of the river that was closed was reopened Thursday after the Coast Guard suspended their search. The latest reading of the water's temperature was nearly 50 degrees, and according to Drelling, a person could still have control of their body for about seven hours and stay alive for about 10 hours. The barge sank in about 50 feet of water near the river's tree-lined banks.

Drelling said the Coast Guard had searched about 40 miles downstream since the search efforts began earlier this week.

Richard Wheatley, the spokesman for Houston-based Kinder Morgan, said the vessel is owned by the owned by GATX Corporation, was leased by Cooper Marine & Timberlands Corporation and operated by American Commercial Lines.

The men worked for Kinder Morgan through staffing agencies, Wheatley said. He said a salvage operation for the barge will be conducted by an outside contractor.

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Follow Christina Huynh on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ckhuynh

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