A 14-year-old girl was behind the wheel of an SUV that plunged into a South Texas port basin, killing her mother, three siblings and a man, authorities say.

The girl was the sole survivor of Thursday's accident and was released from a Brownsville hospital shortly after being rescued from the water Thursday. Family members said the 14-year-old, Debbie Alvarez, was behind the wheel for the first time ever when the crash occurred.

"She was going to park, but instead of pressing the brake, she stepped on the gas pedal," Jessica Alvarez, sister to one of the victims, told Action 4 News. "I'm not sure what they were thinking. She doesn't know how to drive; it was her first time behind the wheel."

The accident happened in an area of the port known as Shrimp Basin, where shrimping boats dock.

Port of Brownsville police Chief Carlos Garcia said the girl told him that her mother and siblings were in the car. "It was just the basic information. She was in shock when I talked to her," Garcia said.

Divers worked Thursday afternoon to recover the SUV, a Mercury Mountaineer. The vehicle had to be hoisted up from the water with cranes.

Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio identified those killed in the accident as 29-year-old Juana Edith Alvarez; her children, 10-year-old Jesse Lee Alvarez, 7-year-old Emily R. Espino and 4-year-old Joe Alvarez; and 56-year-old shrimp boat captain Juan Pablo Morales. Lucio said the family appeared to be on its way to drop off Morales at his job on a shrimping boat.

The story spotlights the dangers of allowing teens to drive with inadequate training. Teens as young as 14 are allowed to drive in several states. Graduated driver licensing (or GDLs) are the most effective step states can take to cutting back on fatalities. Adopted by almost every state in the U.S., graduated licenses put caps on the hours teens can drive, how many other passengers they can have in a car, and insist they do 30 to 50 hours of practice before moving on to an unrestricted license.

A report by the Brownsville Herald said the victims' bodies were found in the back of the SUV, where they were possibly trying to escape the car as it flooded.

Escaping a submerged car can be tricky, especially because it is easy to panic. Experts recommend staying calm, because that will slow down your breathing. Keep your seat belt on until the very last moment, because the seat belt keeps you anchored to the car and gives you more leverage to try to open the door or smash the window. Your best option is to have some sort of device on hand that will break the window, so you can escape through the window and swim to safety.

But if you don't have a window punch, your best chance for survival is to open the door as soon as you hit the water. If you can't do that, roll down the window as quickly as possibly.

Take a look at this video from our friends at AutoBlog, who recently practiced escaping from a submerged car:



AOL Autos staff contributed to this report.


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