Search to continue Monday morning

LEHIGH – A Dayton man is missing after last being seen in the Des Moines River in Lehigh early Sunday morning, Chief Deputy Rod Strait, of the Webster County Sheriff’s Department, reported Sunday afternoon.

The 23-year-old man was last seen swimming at 5:32 a.m. by a fisherman in the area, Strait said.

He was reportedly seen struggling in the water just south of the Main Street bridge.

Other people were on the bridge at the time, Strait said, but the man was believed to be alone in the water.

The identity of the man is not being released at this time per the family’s request, Strait said.

“This is someone who has volunteered for his community,” he added.

The incident occurred in conjuction with the final day of Lehigh River Days, a town celebration.

Mayor Paula Martin said most of the town found out following a community church service held at the ballpark Sunday morning.

She said the remaining events for the day, including sand volleyball and a raffle ticket drawing, were cancelled.

“It was a sad day for all of us, and we certainly convey our sympathy to the young man’s family,” she said.

More than 100 rescue workers searched the area for the man.

“We are searching by river, river bank, on foot, boat, motor vehicle, ATV, K-9, aircraft as well as sonar,” Strait said. “With water being high and heat rising, we are switching out rescue workers to keep everybody fresh.”

The Story County sheriff’s office dive teams were unable to deploy Sunday.

“Currently the water is moving too rapidly for the dive teams to enter safely,” Strait said.

Strait added that once someone goes in the water, they are likely to stay in the area where they were last seen.

An aerial search was conducted by UnityPoint Health Lifeflight. The helicopter flew 10 miles up and down the river, Strait reported.

Independent K-9 handlers were working downstream with the Webster County Conservation and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The Webster County sheriff’s office worked on foot with other K-9 handlers.

As of Sunday night, crews were going to continue searching as long as there was daylight on the river.

“Once we lose our daylight, there will still be some spotters from the fire department,” Strait said.

Lehigh Fire Department is commanding the search operation. They are being assisted by the Dayton Fire Department, Stratford Fire Department, Dayton Rescue, Duncombe Fire Department, Story County sheriff’s office dive team, Webster County Sheriff, Webster County Emergency Management, Webster County Conservation, Webster City Fire Department, Fort Dodge Fire Department, UnityPoint Health Lifeflight, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa State Patrol and independent K-9 handlers from Hardin, Jasper and Polk counties. The Salvation Army is providing care for the rescue workers.

The search is anticipated to resume today. Strait said staff would arrive at 7 a.m. to start planning.

“We are going to continue with the effort of search and rescue,” Strait said.