Baby's body recovered, three missing, after raft carrying migrants capsizes in Rio Grande

(Reuters) - The body of a 10-month-old boy was recovered on Thursday and three other migrants, including two children, were still missing after their raft capsized as they crossed the Rio Grande in Texas, U.S. Border Patrol said.

FILE PHOTO: US Border Patrol agents use air boat to patrol Rio Grande River for illegal immigrants near Eagle Pass in Texas, June 10, 2005. REUTERS/Jeff Mitchell/File Photo

The rubber raft flipped over on Wednesday night near Del Rio, Texas, and all nine of its occupants were swept away in the cold, fast-flowing water, according to the father of the dead child, U.S. Border Patrol said in a statement.

The father swam to safety. A Border Patrol agent jumped into the river and rescued his wife and 6-year-old son. The boy was given emergency care and then rushed to a hospital for advanced treatment. Another man and his son were found on the river bank.

The missing were believed to include the 7-year-old nephew of the dead child’s father, a girl and an adult male, according to the statement.

“What we’re dealing with now is senseless tragedy,” Del Rio Sector Chief Patrol Agent Raul Ortiz said in a statement.

The baby’s body was found several miles downriver by a Border Patrol search and rescue team.

Drownings are common on the Rio Grande, which makes up part of the U.S.-Mexico border, as migrants try to cross on often overcrowded, makeshift rafts with no life jackets. But rescues have increased since October as record numbers of Central American families try to enter the United States.

In the Del Rio sector alone, Border Patrol have rescued more than 200 people since October, a more than 800 percent rise from the year-earlier period. Up to Thursday the sector had recorded five water-related deaths in that period, according to sector data.

Spring is the most dangerous time of year to cross the river, with the Rio Grande now near flood stage with the release of runoff water from the mountains of Colorado and New Mexico.

In the past seven months, Border Patrol has apprehended over 418,000 migrants on the southwest border, already surpassing the 2018 fiscal-year total. Most of those arrested were Central American families, many of them crossing the border in large groups that can number over 400 people.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection recorded 283 deaths on the border in 2018, ranging from heat-related fatalities to drownings. That was down from a high of 492 in 2005 when annual apprehensions stood at nearly 1.2 million.

Migrant advocates say the death toll is far greater as many bodies are never recovered from deserts and the Rio Grande.

Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney