A 49-year-old Lehighton woman, swimming in the Lehigh River with her two grandchildren, died in what is termed an accidental drowning at about 3:30 p.m. Friday.
Wanda D. Wentz was pronounced dead at the Gnaden Huetten Campus of Blue Mountain Health System. Her 7-year-old grandson is in critical condition in Lehigh Valley Hospital, Cedar Crest Campus.
She, the grandson, and another grandchild who is slightly older, were reportedly swimming in the Lehigh River below a trestle that spans the river between Lehighton and Weissport.
Two neighbors, a 14-year-old male and 6-year-old female, were walking along the river when a chain of tragic events unfolded.
Police said the female slipped off rocks and into the river under the trestle, an area known for its swirling water.
Trooper Joseph A. Campbell of the Lehighton barracks of the state police, the investigating officer, said the teenager jumped into the water to rescue his sister.
Meanwhile, the grandmother became disabled in the water and got separated from the grandson, and both began floating in the current, according to police.
The teenager, the 6-year-old, and the other grandchild all managed to get out of the river without injury.
Wentz and the grandchild were in the water for about 15 minutes before being rescued by passers-by and emergency personnel.
The first emergency personnel on the scene were police officers Bob DeFuso and Ryan Kennedy from Lehighton and Frank Lorah from Franklin Township. All entered the water and took part in the rescue efforts for the two victims.
Also arriving at the scene were the Lehighton Fire Department, Franklin Township Fire Department, Mahoning Township Police Department, and Lehighton Ambulance. The Lehighton Fire Department operated from the Lehighton side of the river while the Franklin Township Fire Department entered the river from the Weissport side.
Trooper Campbell said ambulance, fire personnel, and police immediately performed CPR on the victims. They were then transported by ambulance to the Lehighton hospital.
Wentz was pronounced dead by the emergency room physician at 4:48 p.m.
The child was flown by MedEvac helicopter from the Lehighton hospital to the Lehigh Valley Hospital.
Lehighton Fire Chief Gary Frable gave praise to the police officers for the work they performed at the scene before the other emergency responders arrived.
"The police were in the water before we got there," he said.
"It was a group effort all the way around," he added.
Initially, a request was made to have medical helicopters arrive at the scene to transport the victims to hospitals, but windy conditions prevented them from flying.
Frable said when firefighters first arrived on the scene, there had been some confusion when it was reported that a third victim was in the water. However, that individual was found to be safe.
Carbon County Deputy Coroner Robert Miller said an autopsy is scheduled for Monday on Wentz.