Wreckage, not driver, recovered from river
The car that plunged into the Niagara River off Grand Island was recovered Monday evening, but its driver remains missing and the search for him was called off after two days. A passenger escaped the sinking car and swam to shore.
News Staff Reporter

Several hours after it was noticed Monday, the wreckage of a car that had catapulted into the Niagara River was winched from the icy waters off Grand Island. But the body of its missing driver was not inside.

"We were hoping the boy would have been in it," said Capt. Kevin R. Caffery of the Erie County Sheriff's Department. "The chances now of finding him are almost nil."

There are no plans to continue the search, which spanned about 27 hours over two days. "This is it. We're going to call it off," Caffery said.

Travis Hennigar, 19, of Grand Island, reportedly was driving the car early Sunday when it went into the river off Bedell Road. A passenger, Jeffrey Critelli, 18, of Grand Island, escaped through the car's sunroof after it hit the water.

Critelli swam to shore and went to a nearby house to call for help. He was treated in Erie County Medical Center and released.

Officials said the car was heading west on Bedell at high speed when it became airborne after hitting a culvert parallel to West River Parkway and plunged into the water about 4:25 a.m.

"It literally launched from the other side of the road," said Grand Island Fire Chief Skip Mrkall, who said trees and bushes along the shore were shorn off by the car's undercarriage.

Critelli told authorities that the driver was Hennigar and that the car is registered to someone in the Hennigar family, according to authorities.

No definitive speed has been determined, but authorities said Monday that it might have been about 100 mph.

Divers from several local law enforcement agencies and fire departments were involved in the search-and-recovery effort. Teams dived for no longer than 20 minutes at a time in 34-degree water with 2 feet of visibility.

Divers contended with strong currents. Sunday, they found the sunroof window in the water, just beyond where the car apparently entered the river.

Monday afternoon, the car was noticed from the Sheriff's Department helicopter. "We were able to see the roof of the car when the sun came out," Caffery said. Divers were directed to the spot, about 150 feet from shore in about 15 feet of water.

"There's no body inside the vehicle or around the vehicle," Caffery said. "The driver's side door is open."

It was more than three hours later when the first section of the wreckage broke the surface; it was winched up by one of a pair of tow trucks chained together in tandem, parked at road level.

Even from several yards away, onlookers could see that the passenger side doors were about the only section spared heavy damage, Caffrey said.

"The entire roof was just peeled right off," Caffery said. "The front end is totally destroyed. The interior of the vehicle is totally destroyed. Really, I am absolutely amazed that one person was able to survive."

News Staff Reporter T.J. Pignataro of the Northtowns Bureau contributed to this report.