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'It was hard to watch' | Two people lost in water rescue on the Ohio River

Bystanders said they saw a man "fighting for his life" after he jumped into the water, attempting to save a woman who had jumped minutes before.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Multiple agencies were on the water Thursday afternoon searching for two people who had jumped into the Ohio River in downtown Louisville.

Louisville Fire Department Major Bobby Cooper said a little after 12:10 p.m., MetroSafe received calls of a woman walking "erratically" along 6th Street, heading north towards River Road.

Several bystanders attempted to stop the woman and see what help she needed, but she continued walking towards the wharf, eventually jumping into the Ohio River. 

Cooper said a man then jumped in after her in an attempt to rescue her.  

Heb Dearinger said he and his coworker were on their way to grab supplies from his truck for a remodeling job when the pair saw people quickly making their way to the riverfront. 

"I've never seen anything like it," he said.

Cooper said Louisville Fire deployed boats and divers within minutes to perform a rescue operation. Louisville Metro Police and the Coast Guard were also supporting search efforts on the water and in the air.

Crews couldn't spot the woman, but Cooper said they did make eye contact with the man.

Dearinger told WHAS11 News that he saw the man about 50 yards away from the wharf's point "fighting for his life and floating above the water."

"Everyone was yelling at him to keep up and cheering for him to keep it together," he said. 

Dearinger said the man was struggling for about 45 seconds to a minute, fighting against the current, before eventually going under the water. 

Cooper said crews continued the rescue and search operation before ending it around 1 p.m. and passing the investigation over to Louisville Metro Police (LMPD) for recovery.

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"It was real hard to watch," Dearinger said. "Everyone just kind of stood around. Nobody could really do anything for him."

Cooper said the river is incredibly dangerous right now, so the departments were limited to a surface rescue due to its conditions.

"The temperature of the water, the current, the water level and the significant amount of debris in the water-- the water's not safe for anybody," Cooper said. 

He said that when situations like this occur, bystanders should just call 911, especially when the water conditions are so hazardous.

"We're trained professionals," he said. "And our dive teams are in the water all the time, but we couldn't even put them in the water right now."

LMPD is now leading the recovery operation and is investigating why the woman jumped.

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