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Body of 22-year-old pulled from Catawba

Rescue workers search the Catawba River on Monday for a possible drowning victim. The body of a 22-year-old Charlotte man was found later floating in the river later in the day. Below, family members wait by the river during Monday's search.
Rescue workers search the Catawba River on Monday for a possible drowning victim. The body of a 22-year-old Charlotte man was found later floating in the river later in the day. Below, family members wait by the river during Monday's search.

Charlotte resident had been missing since Saturday

Search and rescue teams ended a two-day effort Monday afternoon when they recovered the body of a 22-year-old man from the Catawba River.

Authorities said the body of Hugo Olivier-Contreras of Charlotte was found floating in the river around 3:30 p.m. Monday. He had been missing since his brother reported a possible drowning Saturday evening, authorities said.

Sabrina Gast, York County interim coroner, said an autopsy will be performed today, but rescuers said the cause of death appeared to be drowning.

Contreras and his brother were swimming and fishing in the river Saturday afternoon when Contreras went underwater and never resurfaced, said Cotton Howell, York County emergency management director.

Dive teams searched the river about a half-mile upstream from the Interstate 77 bridge Saturday night. They returned Sunday for about 12 hours and finally located the body Monday after nearly seven more hours of searching.

"We knew if he was in there, we'd find him," said Sgt. Todd Campbell of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

Campbell said DNR divers, a search plane and search dogs combed a 100-yard area for clues. A volunteer's search dog working the banks farther downstream alerted searchers to something in the water, and a team of rescue workers located the body trapped in floating debris nearby, Campbell said.

"Apparently, he floated up and drifted downstream overnight," he said.

Sacramento Mendoza, a family friend, said Contreras and his brother tried to swim across the river to a large rock on the other side. When his brother reached the rock, he looked back and Contreras was gone.

"He jumped in and never came back up," Mendoza said. "We don't know what happened."

Howell said there was no sign that Contreras was intoxicated or entangled underwater, but he noted that the Catawba River is scattered with deep holes and underwater debris.

"They were just out enjoying the river like a lot of people do, but there's certainly a lot of potential danger there," Howell said.

About a dozen friends and relatives had camped on the Catawba's banks since Saturday, waiting for the body to be recovered. Some hovered around a makeshift memorial with a crucifix and candles, while others walked along the rocks looking for Contreras.

Mendoza said Contreras was living and working in Charlotte, but his immediate family was living in Mexico. He said they were racked with grief when the news traveled home Sunday morning.

"His mother is very upset," Mendoza said. "She won't talk to anyone."

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