A Missoula man was missing and presumed dead in the Blackfoot River on Sunday, despite a massive search undertaken by multiple agencies.
Missoula County Sheriff Mike McMeekin said the man likely drowned after the raft in which he was riding capsized around 7 p.m. Saturday evening near Bonner.
"There was a confirmed sighting of the (man's body) floating several miles downstream from where the accident happened," said McMeekin. "So it is a recovery operation at this point, rather than a rescue."
A female passenger in the raft was able to swim to shore after the accident; another male passenger had to be rescued from a gravel bar by Missoula County Search and Rescue personnel. The missing man, whose identity is being withheld pending notification of relatives, was swept down the river.
None of the floaters were wearing personal floatation devices.
"We've had boats on the river all day (Sunday) looking for him, and searchers walking the banks of the river," said McMeekin. "We even had Search and Rescue personnel rappel down on ropes from the temporary bridge in Bonner, to search the debris piles in the river. Despite all that, so far, we haven't found him."
By late Sunday, officials had expanded the search to include portions of the Clark Fork River, extending all the way to Brennan's Wave in downtown Missoula. Agencies including Missoula Search and Rescue, the East Missoula Fire Department, Missoula Rural Fire, Missoula City Fire, the Montana Department of Transportation, and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks all joined in the search.
"It's been a real community effort," said McMeekin. "A lot of people gave up their Sunday to try and help out."
McMeekin said the accident indicates just how dangerous area rivers remain, as late runoff and an unusually heavy winter snowpack have kept flows high and water temperatures low. The Blackfoot River near Bonner, for example, was running at 4,020 cubic feet per second on Sunday n more than 50 percent above the long-term median flow of 2,660 for June 29.
"It's a huge concern going into the (Independence Day) holiday weekend," said McMeekin. "The rivers are high, the water's cold, there's a lot of debris in the river n debris that people can't see in many instances, but that can wreck havoc on a raft or inner tube."
"People really need to be wearing personal floatation devices, and they should wear helmets as well, whenever they go on the rivers right now," McMeekin advised. "People really need to make sure they know what they're doing n at least until the rivers slow down and drop and warm up. I can't emphasize that enough."