IREDELL COUNTY, N.C. - A community is heartbroken after a young firefighter died while diving in Lake Norman Monday, searching for a missing swimmer.
Officials identified the rescue diver as 28-year-old Bradley Long, Volunteer Captain with Sherrills Ford-Terrell Fire Department.
Press "PLAY" to watch Tuesday's press conference:
Emergency management officials, along with Capt. Long's family, gathered early Tuesday morning to address the media about the deaths that have left a fire department, the community and two families devastated.
Officials said 29-year-old Isaiah Cruz disappeared while swimming in Lake Norman Sunday afternoon after jumping off a boat.
After crews could not find him Sunday, several agencies resumed their search for his body Monday.
Three divers with Sherrills Ford and Terrell Fire and Rescue were hoping to find Cruz but after an hour of diving in 35 to 75 feet of water, it was clear something went wrong.
Catawba County Emergency Services confirmed there was an emergency situation underwater involving three divers from Sherrills Ford Fire and Rescue.
(Capt. Bradley Long)
Other emergency workers scrambled to help the divers. Two of them were rushed to the hospital in ambulances with non-life threatening injuries, but the third, Long, never resurfaced.
Just learned the body of Sherrills Ford firefighter along with missing 29-year old have been recovered pic.twitter.com/Un3NGaACdW— Dave Faherty (@FahertyWSOC9) June 7, 2016
Karyn Yaussy, Catawba County's Emergency Management Coordinator, said that Long and two other divers experienced an emergency underwater and that Long did not make it to the surface.
A short time later his body was recovered and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
About 15 boats responded to the area and recovered the body of Cruz as well.
“Today, Sherrills Ford-Terrell Fire suffered a tremendous loss,” said Chief Rick Davis. “One of our firefighters, Bradley Long, age 28, did not surface and was later recovered and pronounced dead at the scene."
Captain Long's father, Jerry Long, himself a 25-year firefighting veteran, fought back tears as he spoke about his son Tuesday.
"My son loved what he did. He loved helping people. He was passionate about what he loved," he said. "Thank you to our brothers at Sherrills Ford. Thank you to the state and federal agencies that helped bring Bradley home."
Long had been with Sherrills Ford Fire Rescue for roughly 12 years, Yaussy said, and also worked full-time as a fire captain for the City of Newton Fire Department.
In a statement, the family said, “Our family would like to thank everyone from all of the fire and emergency services in Sherrills Ford and Catawba County, all regional agencies who have helped, and friends, family and community members for their support during this difficult and tragic time. We ask for prayers and peace as we take time to grieve and heal today and in the days to come. He passed doing what he loved to do and was passionate about.”
Flags in Newton have been lowered for Cpt Bradley Long. He worked here full time. pic.twitter.com/sQoWHPOU1h— Dave Faherty (@FahertyWSOC9) June 7, 2016
Yaussy said that Long was well known throughout emergency services in Catawba County and he exemplified compassion and caring for all those who encountered him.
She also said that the tragedy has affected emergency services personnel very deeply and critical incident stress debriefing is ongoing with many agencies involved.
The two other divers were taken to Lake Norman Regional with non life-threatening injuries and Yaussy said one was released late Monday night while the other was kept overnight for observation.
Memorial arrangements have not been made yet for Long but a detailed planning effort has been implemented with state and local authorities to make sure it goes smoothly.
Press "PLAY" to watch Monday's news conference from Lake Norman:
“Certainly something that will be part of the investigation is what happened?” said Yaussy. “What about the gear? Was everything the way it should be? So those answers are still yet to come.”
The Iredell County Sheriff's Office is investigating Long's death while North Carolina Wildlife is investigating the death of Cruz, and firefighters were asking for prayers for both families.
Many people stopped by the boat launch Monday, hoping for good news, and the deaths are a heartache that’s shared by the local Lake Norman community.
Cruz was a father of a 2-year-old and his wife is expecting another child. His family told Channel 9 that they were in shock after they learned a diver lost his life trying to find Cruz.
Family of missing 29-year old are calling divers who risked their lives "heroes". Devastated by the accident pic.twitter.com/fzc220rCVM— Dave Faherty (@FahertyWSOC9) June 6, 2016
“The fireman that went down there is a hero for the family,” said Oscar Hernandez. “We have no words for what happened and we really feel, not just for our family, but for the fireman's family too.”
Officials said a Charlotte Fire Department vehicle was also involved in a crash in Iredell County while responding to Lake Norman for the dive emergency. No serious injuries were reported though.
This is the second line-of-duty death our area has seen in just a matter of weeks.
The last was Pineville volunteer firefighter Richard Sheltra.
Pineville's fire chief told Channel 9 that he went to the Sherrills Ford Fire Department Monday night to offer his support and some words of encouragement, and said some of his staff members remained there Tuesday.
Firefighters said that during tough and tragic times, they rally around each other, providing support --whether it's through thoughts, prayers or answering emergency calls for a department going through a death of a brother, so those firefighters can grieve.
29-year-old swimmer disappears Sunday
For much of Monday, loved ones could only watch as firefighters from Charlotte and Sherrills Ford used sonar equipment to search the bottom of the lake at depths between 50 and 80 feet.
Family members said they thought the 29-year-old, who they describe as a good swimmer, was joking when he began having trouble in the water.
Making matters worse was the strong wind pushing the boat away from him as he struggled to stay afloat
Channel 9 was told that four people were on the boat on the Mooresville side of the lake when three of them jumped off to swim.The boat drifted away and one man never resurfaced.
"An accident can happen to anybody. Especially in the conditions we had yesterday with the wind blowing. You know it is moving the boat away. You got to remember it is deep water,” Sgt. Ron Robertson with the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission said.
Family members told Channel 9 that the missing man's pregnant wife was on board when he jumped in the water, and that the couple also has a 2-year-old.
Despite having sonar equipment, crews said the search has been difficult. The water is murky and more than 60 feet deep.
Divers combed the area near Charter Place for hours Sunday evening and as the search grew, crews had to rope off one of the driveways.
Crews currently searching water more than 50 feet deep; officials say murkiness making it hard for crews to see pic.twitter.com/Eq2g3j3GWg— DaShawn Brown (@DaShawnWSOC9) June 6, 2016
At one point, they even shut down the road.
Emergency crews from Lake Norman Fire Department as well as Catawba County divers from Sherills Ford responded to the scene Sunday, and additional divers were called in to assist in the search.
Authorities said the other three boaters were OK.
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