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River search: Rescue crews search for missing man

Rescue crews drag the waters below the Little Dam in Valley City searching for a Valley City State University student who went missing when the inflatable raft he was in went over the dam and capsized around 1 a.m. Monday. Two other men with him were dragged to safety and treated at Mercy Hospital in Valley City. David Luessen / The Sun1 / 2
Members of the Valley Water Rescue team search the Sheyenne River for a missing person Monday in Valley City. David Samson / Forum News Service 2 / 2

VALLEY CITY, N.D. — Rescue crews searched the Sheyenne River Monday for a missing man after he and two other men went over the falls in a raft at Little Dam in southwest Valley City.

At approximately 1:15 a.m. Monday, the Valley City Police Department received a 911 call of people yelling for help at the dam. Police and neighborhood residents pulled two men from the water, and the search for the third continued from 1:30 a.m. into the evening.

Valley City Police Chief Fred Thompson said the three men launched an inflatable raft at the Valley City State University footbridge in south central Valley City, and the raft capsized as it went over the dam.  The two rescued men were treated at Mercy Hospital in Valley City.

All three men are Valley City State University students, school spokesman Greg Vanney said.

Search crews, aided by specially trained dogs, spent much of Monday walking the banks and using boats to look for the missing man. Thompson said police officers went to the man’s apartment and his friends’ homes trying to find him but had no luck.

“He could have figured out that he did a bad thing and was hiding out from us,” Thompson said. “I hope that’s the case.”

Retterath was less optimistic. Monday afternoon, he said officials were presuming the man drowned and that the search was a recovery effort.

Thompson said the search included the VCPD, Valley City Fire and Rural Fire departments, Barnes County Sheriff’s Office, North Dakota Game and Fish and Valley Water and Rescue. A request for assistance was made to a Cass County dive team as well.

Searchers waited for the water level to drop and, in turn, make the dam less turbulent, so boats equipped with sonar devices could be used to search the tailwater where the missing man was last seen. Thompson said divers were on hand, if needed.

Thompson and Fire Chief Gary Retterath said Monday afternoon that outflows from Baldhill Dam were cut from 1,740 cubic feet per second to 80 cfs to reduce the depth of the river to assist the search.

“Whenever the water level gets low enough (divers will enter the water) and they tell us that’s going to be around 2 p.m.” Thompson said, standing on the dike overlooking the Little Dam at about 12:30 p.m. Monday. “Whether that’s the case or not and it takes a little bit longer or a little bit shorter; it depends on the water.”

Thompson said the names and ages of the men involved would not be released until a later time, and couldn’t comment as to whether alcohol played a factor in the incident, if the men were wearing life jackets or what the temperature of the water was overnight.

“I have no idea what that water temperature is other than ‘cold,’” Thompson said.

As of late Monday, the missing man had not been found.

At the Little Dam, the river only falls a few feet, but the circulating currents at the base have the power to trap and drown victims. Low-head dams like the Little Dam are notorious for their lethality, despite their sometimes unintimidating appearances. In May 2012, a 38-year-old woman from Valley City drowned near the Little Dam as she tried to save her dog, which also drowned.

The VCFD was called away from the search at 8:36 a.m. when a house fire was reported at 643 North Central Ave., two blocks north of Valley City High School. Retterath said the only resident of the house was not home at the time of the fire and it took about 20 firefighters an hour to contain the blaze. Retterath said the fire came during a lull for the VCFD’s role in the search.

Retterath said the cause of the fire had yet to be investigated because of the search for the missing man, and he planned to either have a fire marshal or an insurance inspector assist him.

“We’ve got it all secured and locked up right now and we’re going to take a look at it tomorrow,” he said. “I just can’t do it by myself with everything else going on.”

Forum News Service contributed to this report.

Sun reporter David Luessen can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at