COMFORT, TEX., JULY 18 -- As dogs sniffed the tangled foliage, helicopters hovered overhead and volunteers cut away branches, survivors on the banks of the receding Guadalupe River waited as the bodies of six more teen-agers were recovered today, bringing the death toll to eight.
"Another one?" one anxious parent asked. "Only one -- what about the others?"
There is little hope here that the two church campers still missing in Friday's flood disaster will be found alive.
They and 41 others were swept away after their church bus and van encountered rising water and were unable to retreat before the torrent overturned the vehicles.
Investigators today exonerated the drivers of the vehicles from blame.
Charles Daggett, a Fire Department spokesman at Comfort, said interviews with the drivers made clear that they had not attempted to cross the river as originally thought.
"The drivers have been taken down to the river today and they described in detail what happened," he said.
"They said they were not attempting to cross the river but were simply trying to get out of the area through a back road. Where the bus stopped the road was already beginning to flood and flooded out the bus," Daggett said.
"It was just bad timing -- an accident -- and no one was to blame."
One victim, Michael O'Neal, 16, was found today tangled in a tree several feet above the flood level. According to eyewitnesses, he had an empty suitcase strapped to his back.
"It seems that he used the suitcase as a float, hoping it would help take him down the river. If he'd managed to keep going just a few hundred yards further, he could have grabbed the cable strung across the river for the kids to hold onto," said Leonard Lewis, a local rancher, who had seen his home swept away by a 1978 flood that killed 15 people.
O'Neal was one of 40 teen-agers and three adults from Seagoville Road Baptist Church, in Balch Springs near Dallas, who were traveling home from the Pot O' Gold summer camp when their bus and van were swept into the roaring waters of the Guadalupe near here, northwest of San Antonio.
By 8 p.m. today, six bodies had been found downstream from the crossing and two were still missing. Most of the other campers, suffering from cuts, bruises and shock, had been plucked to safety by helicopters and rescue workers on the ground.
In addition to O'Neal, the bodies of Lagina Keenum, 15, of Balch Springs; Stacy Smith, 16, of Scurry; Michael Lane, 18, of Dallas, and a brother and sister, William Sewell, 12, and Cindy Sewell, 16, both of Dallas, were recovered today. Cindy Sewell's body was found 18 miles downstream.
Smith's sister, Tonya, 13, was found three miles downstream from the ford on Friday, her body tangled in a fence. Melanie Finley, 14, of Mesquite, slipped from a rope attached to a rescue helicopter and fell to her death Friday.
"We don't hold out much hope of finding anyone alive now," Kerr County Public Safety Sgt. Charles Seale said. "They had been swept further than we thought." The search was called off at dusk and is to resume at dawn.
The campers and residents in the flood-prone area had been warned to take care following an 11-inch downpour upriver Thursday night.
Jennifer Bowman, 13, said she clutched tree branches for four hours before she was rescued.
"When the bus went over, there was not much water to begin with. I just found myself coming out of the front end of the bus with the others, and then the next thing I knew, I was being swept away.
"I suddenly came up out of the water when I was hit by a tree. There were about six of us on the tree, and we just hung on. We prayed and hoped."
There also were tales of bravery. Bowman's brother, Jeff, 17, who broke his ankle, said he swam across the raging Guadalupe to grab a teen-age girl. "She was panicking and screaming. I managed to get hold of her and pull her up on a tree. I just kept talking to her to calm her down," he said.
One of the volunteer rescuers said of the search, "We heard the screaming from the children first and then we spotted them hanging on branches.
"They were good, brave children who had helped each other stay alive."