Responders from several agencies, including the Valley City Fire Department, the Valley City Police Department, the Barnes County Sheriff's Office and Valley Water Rescue worked together in the recovery of a VCSU student who drowned in the Sheyenne River Monday.
The body of Valley City State University student Dan Buehner was recovered from the Sheyenne River Tuesday morning.
"Buehner was a senior majoring in business administration and played catcher on the VCSU baseball team," said VCSU President Steve Shirley in an e-mail to the campus community. "He was from Blaine, Minn. and attended high school at Centennial High."
Buehner, 23, was one of three VCSU students who went into the Sheyenne River near the Little Dam in Valley City just after 1 a.m. Monday when the rubber raft they were aboard capsized.
Buehner; Ryan Shaw,22; and Hayden Johnson, 21, entered the river near the VCSU footbridge off Central Avenue in a heavy-duty four-man raft designed for fishing, according to Valley City Police Chief Fred Thompson. The trio planned to raft downriver to meet some friends.
The raft floated downstream until it went over the Little Dam where it capsized, according to Thompson. All three of the men went into the water.
Johnson was nearest to the shore and was assisted by the group's friends who called 9-1-1 when they saw the students enter the water.
Responding VCPD Officer Sean Hagen and Sergeant Cody Thibert, with the help of one of the male friends waiting, were able to pull Johnson to shore. Shaw was further out hanging onto a tree branch and couldn't make it back to shore on his own. Unable to reach Shaw, the officers threw a line to the man and pulled him to shore, said Thompson.
"It was at this time that the officers were advised that there was a third male in the water," said Thompson.
First responders searched on shore for the missing student, but were unable to enter the water due to high water and a rough undertow, according to Retterath Monday. A request was made to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reduce the flow of water entering the Sheyenne from the Baldhill Dam. The Corps of Engineers complied, reducing the flow to about 50 CFS; a mere trickle. Monday afternoon, the gate at the Old Mill Dam was closed, further reducing the flow of water into the river. Still, it took several hours to lower the river level enough to allow personnel from Valley Water Rescue to safely enter the river to search for the missing man.
While they waited, Valley Water Rescue used sonar in an attempt to locate the man while rescuers, along with dogs, boarded boats and used long poles to examine the river's bottom.
Late Monday afternoon, the river near the Little Dam was deemed safe to enter. Wearing wet suits designed to protect against the frigid water temperature, which was approximately 45 degrees according to one Valley City firefighter, rescue crews waded in the river in a grid pattern.
Another rescue worker stood in a boat using a long pole to feel the river's bottom while being slowly pulled across and down the river by ropes maneuvered by Valley City firefighters on either shore.
Valley City and Barnes County officials including Retterath, Barnes County Sheriff Randy McClaflin, Thompson and Valley City Mayor Bob Werkhoven, along with members of the VCFD, the VCPD, Barnes County Ambulance Service, and sheriff's deputies watched and waited from the south shore.
At dusk, the search was called off to be resumed Tuesday morning.
On Tuesday, search crews gathered once agin at about 8 a.m. by the Little Dam to resume the search.
Valley City firefighters donned protective clothing and waded shoulder-to-shoulder in cold, chest-deep water searching the bottom of the river for any trace of the student. Scott Miller of the Barnes County Ambulance found a sneaker in a fallen tree and held it up only to learn that Buehner was wearing sandals when he went overboard.
Nearly two hours after the search began, Buehner's body was discovered under the Eighth Avenue Bridge in Valley City, near the VCSU Bubble, by one of the men.
Retterath praised all of the entities that assisted with the search and recovery.
"I'm thankful for the Corps for lowering the river which immensley helped us so we were able to do that systematic search and find him. That was a good thing," Said Retterath. "Plus law enforcement helped us; the sheriff, and local police, plus water rescue who did a very good search yesterday."
The fire chief and his staff did a super job," said Werkhoven. "They made the best they could out of a tragic event."
Buehner's body was removed from the river and taken to the Grand Forks Medical Examiner's Office after being identified by his parents.
"I think the search went well, we were successful. It's a shame that the young man passed away, but it can give his family some closure," said Thompson.
After the search ended, Retterath wondered if something more needed to be done to ensure safety in and along the river, "We've had too many of these in the last couple of years and we will evaluate the situation in the river at this time and see if there's something else we can do besides just giving the message," he said. "Yes, it's a big warning, when the water is up like that; man, it's a dangerous thing."