Searchers recover Whitefish man’s body in Flathead River
Two deputies with the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office stand watch at the Pressentine Fishing Access Site along the Flathead River south of Columbia Falls after a raft capsized near the Teakettle Fishing Access Site and left one person unaccounted for on Tuesday afternoon. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)
Two Bear Air and Columbia Falls firefighter search for an individual that was reported in the Flathead River Tuesday afternoon. The person apparently went in the water near the former Columbia Falls Aluminum Plant. The search was ongoing. (Chris Peterson photo)
Flathead Valley search and rescue teams on Wednesday morning recovered the body of a man who likely drowned in the Flathead River Tuesday near the old Columbia Falls Aluminum Company plant. The man was identified as Dennis Bee, 52, of Whitefish.
“We located him in a large eddy pool downstream from where he last seen at the big rock near the aluminum plant,” Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino said.
Bee is a well-known Whitefish businessman who worked in real estate in the early 2000s and later worked as a car salesman. He also served on the Whitefish Planning Board during the early 2000s. In the early 1990s he was the sales manager for KJJR at Bee Broadcasting, a business founded by Bee’s late father, Benny Bee Sr.
Searchers from the Sheriff’s Office, North Valley Search and Rescue, Flathead Search and Rescue, Two Bear Air and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks searched Tuesday afternoon after the raft Bee and three other people were floating in hit a rock and capsized north of the Teakettle Fishing Access in Columbia Falls.
The search resumed at 6 a.m. Wednesday with the tragic find at about 9 a.m.
“I want to thank the efforts of not only our search and rescue members, but also those who stepped up to help during this emergency,” Heino said in a prepared statement Wednesday afternoon. “Our professional volunteers sacrifice countless hours to respond to these emergencies. This operation was challenging due to the high water conditions.
“With the coming weekends we ask everyone to be aware of the cold water conditions and high water flows currently on our rivers. Please wear safety equipment and ensure you gather information about river conditions,” Heino stressed.
He said scuba divers weren’t used to find the body because the river was running too fast. Bee wasn’t wearing a personal flotation device, the sheriff added.
“The flow was measured at about 22,000 cubic feet per second and the surface water temperature a few hours after the accident was 57 degrees,” Heino said. “Obviously the water is colder the deeper you go, but even at 57 degrees, you can start the cramp up in a few minutes.”
Heino said the woman, who was believed to be the Bee’s fiancée, also wasn’t wearing a life vest, but the two children, one described as a teenager and the other a bit younger, were both wearing vests.
Heino also said the woman helped get the kids out of the water.
“When the man went into the water, he was swept downstream pretty quick,” Heino said.
Tuesday afternoon, a Hungry Horse man told the Daily Inter Lake he dove into the river to try and help the people.
“I was going past in my jet boat and I thought I heard one of the people say ‘Help,’” Dale Sandquist said. “So I turned around and went back and the woman said ‘Get my husband.’ I grabbed him by the hair, but I couldn’t hang on because of the strong current [of the water]. It was just so frustrating.”
Sandquist said the man wasn’t breathing when he reached him.