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Search continues for missing man on Flathead Lake

By Kevin Lessard, KCFW Reporter, klessard@kcfw.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 02:23:13 AM MST
Updated On: Aug 26 2013 06:41:08 PM MDT
Flathead Lake Missing Man

The search for a missing Huson man is declared a recovery mission just one day after he went missing on Flathead Lake.

Authorities tell us that Nathan Bird of Huson went missing Sunday during a fishing trip.

Lake County dispatch received a call from a woman about an abandoned boat. Lake County Sheriff’s Office responded and found out the boat belonged to Bird.

The investigation began as a search and rescue mission, but after no sign of Bird near the shore or on islands in the lake, it turned to a recovery effort.

They found his boat near an island Sunday -- one dog on it, another on shore.

Then a storm rolled in. Lake County Public Information Officer Karen Sargeant tells NBC Montana that caused some problems.

"Chances are it didn't hamper it too bad, but we did have to worry about our personnel that went out on the lake and they we had some pretty good swells," Sargeant said.

We wanted to understand how search teams scour the water to find a missing person, so we had Sargeant break down the process step-by-step.

Here's what she told us. First, teams put up a plane and map out a grid of the search area. That helps narrow their focus.

"When we do an extensive search of the area, an extensive search of the island and you have a helicopter flying over they're not that heavily forested that they wouldn't be able to see somebody if they managed to make it to shore," said Sargeant.

Next, they call in a boat that uses sonar, to see if they can detect anything below them in the water. If they find something, they send a dive team into the water to check it out.

But Sargeant tells us this part has been difficult.

"When the storm came in, chances are it kicked up a lot of silt and debris from the wave action so the visibility is probably considerably less today."

Sargeant says they'll continue searching points of interest on the lake for Bird, but it could be days before they recover Bird's body, if at all.