Accident Database

Report ID# 2689

  • Swim into Strainer
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water
  • High Water
  • One Boat Trip

Accident Description

1 rescued, 1 dead, 1 missing in Dearborn River accident

By MARTIN J. KIDSTON Independent Record

DEARBORN - Search and rescue crews recovered the body of of Melody L. Alvestad, 48, from Tacoma, Wash., early Monday and continued looking for a Helena man who was with her on a raft that capsized late Sunday on a swollen and fast-moving Dearborn River. Alvestad apparently drowned after falling into the river, according to Lewis and Clark County Coroner Mickey Nelson. Alvestad was wearing a life jacket, he said.

With the Dearborn flowing at more than 5,050 cubic feet per second, up from a standard flow of only 250 cfs, rescuers set off by boat and by air to search roughly 11 miles of river where it cuts rugged mountain terrain in arid country 40 miles north of Helena. Crews were called to the river late Sunday after the raft overturned, tossing its three occupants into the water.

The raft was one of two in a seven-member party that set off at roughly 3:30 p.m. Sunday near a bridge crossing the Dearborn River on Highway 287. Comprised largely of Helena-area residents, according to officials, the party was more than halfway down the river when the accident occurred. "Apparently, the one raft hit a rock and flipped," Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Cheryl Liedle said. "One of the rafters made it to the shore last night. "He was brought out by helicopter and taken to Benefis (hospital) in Great Falls and treated for hypothermia."

After arriving at the confluence of the Dearborn and Missouri rivers Sunday night, responders launched a hovercraft and pushed up the rapid-ridden river. A helicopter joined the search and located a survivor, a Helena man, at around 10:30 p.m. Shortly after he was located, however, the helicopter's rotor clipped an object, forcing the machine to land. Responders in the hovercraft, including Lewis and Clark Search and Rescue member Tobey Melnik, pushed on and retrieved the man from the rock. "The helicopter that went down actually had a visual on him," Melnik said. "We continued up river on the hovercraft. One of the party's boats was there on shore. "They knew where the stranded rafter was."

Melnik said the survivor was loaded into a litter and hoisted into a second helicopter. The man, whose name has not been released, was said to be alert and excited and aware of events unfolding around him. "The river conditions were fierce," Melnik said. "There are a lot of big rapids. You had to position the hovercraft where there was dead water. We were able to do that, but there were a couple times we had to turn around and try moving through the rapids again."

The rescue base, perched on the banks of the Missouri River within sight of the roiling Dearborn, grew Monday as the search continued for the two remaining members of the raft.Inside the command post, Liedle was called to the radio at around 11:10 a.m. It was the rescue crews upriver, having located Alvestad, asking for the ropes and pulleys needed to extricate her body from the scene. "We'll continue searching until we find them all," said a solemn Liedle shortly after the call came in. A military helicopter from Malmstrom Air Force Base searched up and down the canyon and along the Missouri River.

A helicopter from the U.S. Border Patrol and one from Beck Aviation also aided in the search. Jason Grimmis, a Lewis and Clark County deputy sheriff, climbed from one helicopter to join rescue crews by the van. Despite a cool and often brisk wind coming off the river, Grimmis said flying upriver was relatively smooth. The visibility across the Dearborn's surface was fair, he said, although peering below the river's muddy current was nearly impossible. "The river kind of gets pretty steep on both sides and there's not a lot of room to walk around," Grimmis said. "The water is moving fast with a lot of debris."

Searching from the air offered rescue crews the best vantage. Grimmis studied the river currents hoping to determine where the last missing rafter may have ended up. The river, which crested late Sunday above flood stage, was moving at about seven miles per hour. "We're looking at close to 20 hours since they went into the water," said Grimmis. "It's a grassy shoreline in a lot of areas with cliffs on both sides at times." Rescue crews staffing the command post worked with searchers upriver. A topographic map sat open upon the table, and two computer monitors displayed the terrain. Most rescue members had been on the scene for nearly 24 hours, and several spent the night at a Holter Lake campground.

Search and rescue efforts had been running nonstop since Sunday, less the two hours of pause ordered after nightfall for safety precautions. "The runoff and the swift water and the terrain have made it difficult," said rescue volunteer Twila York, who monitored radios with Bob Schmitt. "The water is high with a lot of debris. There's a lot of strong eddies and currents out there."



Searchers find body in river believed to be that of missing man
The Associated Press  June 21, 2008


HELENA - A body found Friday along the Dearborn River north of here is believed to be that of a man missing since a rafting accident on May 25, the Lewis and Clark County sheriff said. A search party with dogs found the body at midday Friday beneath a log that apparently was submerged by high water during earlier search efforts, Sheriff Cheryl Liedle said. The body was a mile or so from the place where the rafting accident occurred last month, Liedle said.
Helena resident Lanny O'Leary, 56, survived and was rescued the night of May 25, the body of 48-year-old Melody Alvestad of Tacoma, Wash., was recovered the next day and 44-year-old Jeff Rayman of Helena remained missing.
The Lewis and Clark County coroner did not immediately return a call seeking information after the search ended on Friday.
Searchers had ventured out multiple times to look for Rayman in the time since the accident, which occurred when the river was flowing extraordinarily high and fast.
O'Leary, Alvestad and Rayman were in a raft that flipped as they floated the Dearborn in a party that included people in two other rafts.


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