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Officials recover body from submerged vehicle in Clark Fork River

By Kevin Maki, KECI Reporter, kmaki@keci.com
Published On: Jun 11 2014 09:44:00 AM MDT
Updated On: Jun 11 2014 11:12:03 PM MDT
MISSOULA, Mont. -

Rescue crews in Missoula recovered a body inside a maroon Dodge Caravan Wednesday afternoon, almost 24 hours after it plunged off a steep embankment into the Clark Fork River.

Witnesses at West Broadway's Taco John's reported the man driving appeared to be in his 60s or older.

Police aren't speculating about the discovery of the body, except to say it was Caucasian.

The Missoula County Sheriff's Office confirmed early in the day that they believed the object located in the Clark Fork River near the railroad trestle was the missing vehicle, resting upside down on its top.

Emergency crews used cranes, boats, and other equipment in the extensive search that began Tuesday afternoon and ended Wednesday afternoon.

Public Information Officer Travis Welsh, with the Missoula Police Department, says the trestle where the search was focused is about 200 yards downstream from where the vehicle went in.

Welsh says the water was too dangerous to use divers.

He says authorities did not know who might have been in the vehicle.

After the van plunged down the bank, it floated downstream until it submerged near the train trestle. That's where it stayed, until crews attached a line to it. But the line loosened.

"It floated downstream about another 150 feet when it came to rest again," said Welsh. "However, at this point it was above the surface of the water.

A rescuer straddled the roof of the vehicle, and crews surrounded it to get a good position for recovery.

While in the water rescuers recovered the person who had been inside the vehicle, for almost 24 hours, and brought the body ashore.

The water was frigid and moving fast. "It's very dangerous," said Welsh, "these men are risking their lives."

After the body was recovered, the crane hoisted the vehicle from the river Thursday afternoon, just west of the Montana Rail Link trestle, downriver from Taco John's.

NBC Montana spoke with eyewitness Jesse Reed on Tuesday.

"He stopped for a second and then just, it looked like his brakes weren't working and then he went over. It kind of freaked me out, because it was an older gentleman in the vehicle, he was between like 60 or 80," said Reed.

According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Clark Fork River between the Orange and Russell Street bridges was closed at the request of Missoula police while the search for the vehicle and its driver continued into Tuesday afternoon.

Missoula Parks & Recreation also placed a temporary closure at its McCormick Park access site near the search location.