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'Dangerous' river conditions complicating search for missing fishermen

OREGON – The body of one of two missing fishermen was located Thursday night, but could not be recovered due to the worsening conditions of the Rock River, Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle said at a news conference Friday.

Divers and a remotely-operated robot were deployed to recover the individual about 5,300 feet south of the Oregon dam. But water conditions were too swift in the 16-feet-deep location and divers were unable to reach the bottom of the river. A drag operation followed, but the current had moved the body to an unknown location.

“The one individual was over a mile south of the dam last night,” VanVickle said. “So obviously we do have some concerns with distance at this point. We have a lot more real estate to deal with now. So that makes it more difficult along with the conditions.”

The search for both men continued on Friday with a boat and sonar equipment from Christian Aid Ministries Search and Rescue out of Bureau County. The water level rose about six inches on Thursday night, increasing the current, VanVickle said. In present conditions, divers and the remotely-operated robot cannot be deployed.

VanVickle said that due to rain further north, the river was forecast to rise again on Saturday, which would prevent even sonar equipment from being able to be put on the water until it recedes. The swift current and rising water levels would make it too dangerous for personnel to be on the river.

“We've put every resource we can on top of this,” Oregon Fire Department Capt. Dustin Champlain said. “The cold weather, the river is really high. It's pretty dangerous.”

The current priority of the recovery operation is trying to revisit Thursday night's locations to find viable targets in an effort to determine the proper course of action to recover the bodies. Potentially poorer weather next week could halt the search momentarily.

“We'll halt operations when it's no longer safe,” VanVickle said. “And we're right on the border of being safe and unsafe at this point.”

VanVickle reiterated Friday that the identities of the two men, whose boat capsized around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, will not be released until they are recovered. The search began when a witness saw an overturned boat in the boil below the dam in the west channel of the river and notified authorities.

Law enforcement officials used numbers on the boat to match it to a pickup and trailer parked in the Castle Rock State Park boat launch 2 miles south of town.

A call to the family of the owner revealed the two men were fishing on the Rock River.

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