Body of missing 14-year-old found in South Fork River

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — Gaston County emergency crews said they found the body of a missing 14-year-old, who disappeared along the South Fork River in Spencer Mountain.

[IMAGES: Crews rescue teenager stranded on South Fork River island]

Officials said Ethan Britt's body was found around noon Friday near the Spencer Mountain Dam -- the last place he was reportedly seen.

Crews said they were able to better search the area after the water receded.

"All of us are fathers. We wanted to make sure we're bringing closure to the family," said one rescuer.

Fueled by compassion, these fathers entered the South Fork River for a fourth day of searching.

"We were actually able to walk on water in dry suites," said one rescuer. "This morning we again returned with a large team as water receeded to give us a better chance to look for Ethan."

A group of 16 searchers and one police dog used rafts and walked through the same area they've searched many times until they found Britt's body.

The teen disappeared late Monday night after he and a friend went swimming in the river. At the time, the river was swollen by rainfall and both teens were swept away by the waters.

Britt's friend was found early Tuesday morning trapped on an island.

Reporter Gina Esposito was at the scene along Stanly Spencer Mountain Road just before 8 a.m. Tuesday and could see many firefighters and medical staff gathered on the bridge over the river.

Authorities told Channel 9 a teenage boy, not wearing any clothes, was spotted on the island and firefighters worked to figure out how to get to him safely.

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Emergency management officials said they were able to communicate with the boy via a PA system and that he was not hurt.

Authorities said that around 6:30 p.m. on Monday, the teenager said he and 14-year-old Ethan Britt decided to go for a swim in the river and got separated after being swept away in the strong current.

The boy who was rescued had been stuck on the island all night until Lee Ward was driving on the bridge Tuesday morning and said "I think I get a glimpse of what looked like a person."

Ward said he spotted a teenager standing on a small patch of dirt that used to be an island.

"It was a miracle. God put me there at the right time," Ward said.

Officials believed Britt floated down the river, but they weren't sure exactly where. Officials said that at least one of the two boys went over a dam after the pair was separated.

The pair got into the water near GW Hardy Road.

[ALSO READ: Swollen South Fork River has Cramerton residents on edge]

Just after 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Channel 9 spotted a rescue team in a boat pulling up to the island, which was covered in thick brush. About 30 minutes later, Channel 9 was there as the rescue boat pulled away from the island with the teenager on board, and made its way to shore.

"They had a hard time getting around the island because the terrain had been submerged," said Bill Melton with Gaston County Emergency Management. "They were able to get to him and bring him out."

Once on land, the teen was covered with a blanket and loaded him into an ambulance to be checked out.

The weather on Wednesday hampered search efforts, with rain complicating things, though search teams said they were very hopeful. They looked for Britt on the land around the river and are also on the river with boats as well as above it with drones.

The current remained too strong to put divers in the water.

Thursday, officials said emergency crews continued searching the river with drones and on foot. They also searched Lake Wylie by boat and with canines.

"It is a rescue until we find this individual. That's the way we look at it," Melton said. "He could be anywhere. Maybe he's with a friend. We are hopeful until we find him."

Water levels in Gaston County were much higher than normal because of all the rain the area has seen the past four days.

Mecklenburg County officials said in a release Tuesday morning that heavy rainfall in the Catawba River Basin has resulted in rising lake levels. On Monday, the water level in Mountain Island Lake rose to 6.9 feet above its normal full pond elevation, which is the highest recorded water level on the lake since 1940.

Upstream of Mountain Island Lake in Lake Norman and downstream in Lake Wylie water levels are at or above flood elevations. The high lake levels have caused raw sewage, gasoline from overturned boats and other pollutants to discharge to the lakes, creating potential human health concerns.

High water levels also create very unsafe conditions for swimmers.

Check back with wsoctv.com for updates on this developing story.