By Cara Sulieman
RESCUERS hunting for a hooded man who plunged into a fast-flowing river said yesterday the victim may actually be a woman.
An RAF Kinloss helicopter joined the search at the River Almond in Livingston after reports a man jumped head-first off a bridge into the gushing torrent 20ft below.
Two drivers who witnessed the fall were left “very distressed” after seeing the mystery person falling into the 10ft-deep river.
Having interviewed other witnesses who saw the person near the murky waters at Kirton yesterday (Thurs), detectives said they have intelligence suggesting they should be looking for a female.
It is feared the body could have reached the River Forth within an hour of entering the water, which was moving at 15mph.
Police divers couldn’t even get into the swollen river today (Fri) to search as persistent rain saw the dangerous current intensify.
But with nobody officially reported missing in the area, officers were constrained to search the riverbanks.
The Coastguard were posted at the mouth of the river in Cramond, while police were posted at every bridge along the length of the river.
An appeal for witnesses at the scene in Livingston led to seven more people coming forward with new information.
It is now believed that the person was standing on the outside of the railings on the River Almond bridge at 9am before diving head-first into the water below.
Two passing drivers stopped and rushed to the railings but couldn’t see anything.
They flagged down a passing patrol car and officers went down to the riverbank to see if anyone had surfaced.
But despite a full-scale search operation there was still no sign of anything.
Police are now asking anyone to come forward if they recognise the person’s description, as they attempt to establish why they jumped off the bridge.
Inspector Stephen Elliot, who is leading the search, said they were hoping to launch boats as soon as the choppy conditions died down.
He said: “The first witness statements we got on Thursday said it was a young male who had jumped into the water.
“But after speaking to the new witnesses today (Fri) we are now unsure whether it was a man or a woman.
“It is about 50-50 and only one person said they saw their face.
“A helicopter has done a few scans of the river and we have checked local snag points but nothing has come up.
“On the day of the incident we were unable to get anyone onto the water because it was just too dangerous – there were huge tree trunks coming downstream.
“We are hoping to get a structured, full-scale, search effort in place as soon as it is safe to do so.
“In the meantime we are appealing for anyone who may know this person or recognise the description to come forward.
“It has been an unfortunate event and very distressing for the witnesses, so our efforts are focussed on finding this individual.”
According to witness statements, the person on the bridge was between 14 and 25 years-old, of slim build and between 5ft 8” and 5ft 10”.
They were wearing dark clothing and either a jacket with its hood up or a hooded top.