2 Dead, Up to 3 Missing After Boating Accident in Cal-Sag Channel

Officials said the 19-foot boat collided with a 66-foot vessel around 11 p.m.

Up to three people are missing and two others dead after a boat capsized in the Cal-Sag Channel near Palos Hills, Illinois, Friday night, officials said.

The Coast Guard suspended their search and rescue Saturday afternoon and said they would "support other agencies as they continue to use sonar equipment."

The 19-foot boat collided with a 66-foot commercial towing vessel around 11 p.m., according to the Coast Guard.

Police said someone called authorities after hearing a loud a noise near Southwest Highway and the Canal Bridge.

First responders were able to locate the barge and the small pleasure craft but did not see anyone in the water.

Officials confirmed at least three people were on board the boat at the time of the collision, but said there may have been two others.

"We're still looking at it like there were five people on board until we prove otherwise," said Jason Neubeuer with the Coast Guard.

The bodies of a man and a woman were recovered from inside the boat without life vests on. The bodies were identified as Jeremy Muzika and Viengsavanh Bielarz, according to Sergeant Bill Shannon with the Illinois Conservation Police.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's office confirmed the two bodies were recovered.

Officials said they are still searching the area for one to three other boaters.

"In 26 years it doesn't get any easier," said Shannon.

Several emergency crews responded to the scene but fog prevented air crews from being able to help in the search.

It was not immediately clear what caused the crash, but officials said they are investigating the actions of both the boat and the barge.

According to Sergeant Jeff Crowley with the Palos Hills Police Department, the area is a frequent route for barges.

“I don’t think it is very typical for a pleasure craft to be out this late at night,” Crowley said. “You don’t see a lot of pleasure crafts to be out this late at night.”

Officials said the vessel the boat collided with was a UTV Bill Arnold, which had a cargo of six barges.

According to Chief Warrant Officer Mark Stevens, runoff from this week's rain has left the water murky and makes locating objects difficult.

The channel has been closed to traffic between mile markers 308 and 315, according to the Coast Guard.

Coast Guard officials said three vehicles were found at a nearby boat ramp, two of which were registered to the same address as the capsized boat.

Another vehicle was registered to a person in the same neighborhood.

Police conducted a wellness check at the boat owner’s residence but there was no response, according to authorities.

Greg Bielarz believes the capsized boat belongs to his brother.

“They go out boating every week, have fun,” Bielarz said. “They know there’s barges, they know the dangers, but things happen.”

Authorities were not releasing the names of the missing boaters, but Bielarz said he believes both his brother and his brother’s wife were on the boat.

“That’s my brother,” he said. “We’re hoping for the best.”

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