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Details still scarce in CFD diver’s death after Chicago River search

CFD diver Juan Bucio was taken to Stroger Hospital, where he was pronounced dead Monday night. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Exactly what went wrong in the Chicago River in the moments before fire department diver Juan Bucio died during a rescue attempt is unclear.

Fire Department officials have said an investigation is underway but they have shared little more. And the body of Alberto Lopez, the man Bucio was searching for, is still missing.

Three Chicago Police boats and two Illinois Conservation Police boats searched the river for Lopez’s body until 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. The search is expected to continue on Thursday.

Ramiro Ponce, meanwhile, was on the riverbank just northwest of Bridgeport, peering into the water and looking for his friend. They had been on a boat about 7:50 p.m. Monday when Lopez, 28, fell into the river.

Amateur video | The boat trip on the Chicago River that Alberto Lopez was taking with friends. Lopez later fell in the river and

Lopez and Ponce, 25, along with a third friend, were out for a pleasure cruise on a 16-foot fishing boat with an outboard engine when a larger boat passed and created a wake that rocked the smaller vessel.

Lopez, who couldn’t swim and wasn’t wearing a life jacket, fell from his seat near the edge of the boat into the river. His friends called 911 and circled back to search for him. An interpreter was translating from Spanish to English as they spoke to the fire dispatcher, according to the radio calls.

A few minutes later, first responders flooded the stretch of the south branch of the Chicago River just west of the 2600 block of South Ashland where Lopez fell in. At 8:03 p.m., a fire official asked for the Coast Guard to keep boats out of that stretch of the river to allow divers to enter the water, according to a fire department radio transmission.

Chicago Fire Department diver Juan Bucio (left) died Monday while searching in the Chicago River for Alberto Lopez (right), whose body was recovered days later. | Bucio photo provided by Chicago Fire Department; Lopez photo from Facebook
Chicago Fire Department diver Juan Bucio (left) died Monday while searching in the Chicago River for Alberto Lopez (right), who remains missing. | Bucio photo provided by Chicago Fire Department; Lopez photo from Facebook

“We’re starting to search for the guy,” the official said seven minutes later.

At 8:25 p.m., a fire department helicopter pilot radioed: “Our divers are in the water there at the incident.”

Bucio, 46, and his fire department dive partner had descended into the water from the helicopter.

The moment Bucio went under the water was caught on video by WBBM-TV (Channel 2). The video shows the confusion in the moments before fellow divers located him.

Bucio and his partner were swimming next to a fire boat when someone on it yelled, “Diver let’s go! Diver let’s go!”

Bucio went under the water while his partner put his hands on the boat to stay above water.

“What are you doing?” someone on the boat yelled.

A line was tossed to the diver who was above water. After he was pulled to safety, he told the crew that Bucio “ripped his mask off and he went down,” according to a radio transmission.

Several minutes later, divers jumped into the water to find Bucio. He was pulled out minutes later and rushed to Stroger Hospital.

“Our diver we got out is going to Stroger, critical!” a fire official radioed in at 8:56 p.m.

Procession after death of CFD diver Juan Bucio. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
Procession after death of CFD diver Juan Bucio. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Bucio, who joined the fire department in 2003 and had been a diver since 2007, was pronounced dead at the hospital at 10:02 p.m.

A Cook County medical examiner’s report on what caused his death could take several weeks to finish. Studies are pending, including whether heart disease caused his death, a medical examiner’s spokeswoman said.

Bucio had a girlfriend and two sons, ages 7 and 9.

Lopez, the man Bucio was searching the river for, had three children, ages 7, 4 and 10 months.

Friends of Alberto Lopez watch the search for their friend’s body on Wednesday. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times
Friends of Alberto Lopez watch the search for their friend’s body on Wednesday. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

He moved to the United States about 10 months ago from Mexico. Lopez, who was not in the United States legally, planned to work as a carpenter until December, at which time he was to return to Mexico to marry his girlfriend, Brenda Delgado, Ponce said.

Lopez was staying with Ponce at his home in West Lawn.

“This is all very sad,” Ponce said, acknowledging the duel tragedies as he peered into the river.

Video by Fran Spielman | Death of CFD diver

“We lost a real hero,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel had said Tuesday. “And I want everybody, if they can, to remember he has two young sons. For them, there’ll be an empty seat at the breakfast table. For them, their dad, their hero, our hero, won’t be there on graduation day. We all have to remember that.”

Deputy District Chief Ron Dorneker also talked to reporters about Bucio on Tuesday.

“I can’t say enough about this man — as a father, as a family man, as a friend, as a co-worker, as a peer . . . he was the best,” Dorneker said.

On Wednesday, the Fire Department tweeted detail about Bucio’s upcoming funeral.

Visitation for Bucio will be held from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday at St. Rita of Cascia High School, 7740 S. Western Ave.

His funeral is noon Monday, also at St. Rita High School. The burial ceremony will follow at Mt. Auburn Cemetery, 4101 S. Oak Park Ave., in southwest suburban Stickney.