Search resumes for possible drowning victim

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 | 9:40 a.m. CST; updated 9:52 p.m. CST, Wednesday, December 17, 2008

COLUMBIA — The search continues for 20-year-old John P. Forget of Chesterfield, who was suspected to have fallen into the Missouri River after he jumped out of the way of a tractor-trailer Tuesday evening on the Interstate 70 bridge near Rocheport, authorities said.

Forget, a sophomore at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., had transferred to the college from seminary in the fall and had not yet declared a major, said Steve Johnson, Benedictine’s director of marketing and communications.

Forget lived on campus and was involved Bible studies, and was planning on running track for the school in the spring, Johnson said.

A Mass was celebrated for Forget Tuesday night in a chapel on Benedictine’s campus, Johnson said. The college's semester finals ended Tuesday.

The search, now deemed a recovery effort,  has been turned over to the Missouri State Water Patrol, said Division Chief Gale Blomenkamp of the Boone County Fire Protection District.

At 9 a.m., Water Patrol boats continued searching the water for Forget. A Missouri State Highway Patrol helicopter also began flying over the river from Jefferson City to Boonville to aid in the search, Sgt. Jeff Callahan, of the Water Patrol, said.

The Water Patrol crews were using side-scan sonar equipment, which is lowered into the water, where it shoots out sound waves in all directions to detect objects in the water, Callahan said.

With estimated water temperatures in the low 40s, Callahan said it was too cold to send a diver out, and it would be difficult for anyone to survive in the water without a life jacket.

"It could be a long time" before Forget's body is found, Callahan said.

At about 8 p.m. Tuesday, Forget fell into the river after the eastbound vehicle in which he and two others were traveling crashed because of icy conditions, according to the water patrol. The car's occupants then got out to survey the damage to the vehicle and see if they could drive it off the bridge, Blomenkamp said.

The other occupants told authorities that Forget was then nearly struck by a tractor-trailer and either fell or jumped off the bridge, said Tanya Deckard, an operator with the Cooper County Emergency Operations Center. 

The two occupants were transported to University Hospital where one was treated for an injury, Blomenkamp said. He said he could not confirm the identity of the passengers.

About 8:45 p.m Tuesday, rescue crews from the fire district launched boats near Huntsdale to search for the man as well as check the banks near the bridge, Blomenkamp said.

Two fire district boats and one Missouri State Water Patrol boat searched the river and its banks until about midnight. Crews also searched along the Katy Trail under the bridge.

Search boats were brought in for the night at 12:15 a.m. Wednesday because of poor visibility, Blomenkamp said.

With the Water Patrol reporting water temperatures in the low 30s, Blomenkamp said it was likely hypothermia would set in within minutes because body heat is lost about 25 percent faster in water.

Missourian reporters Cory Stottlemyer, Chad Day, Rebecca Delaney and Cassidy Shearrer contributed to this report.

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MICK EICHHOLZ December 17, 2008 | 1:13 p.m.

I am from St. L. and graduated from BC. I've always hated crossing that bridge, especially in bad weather. My sympathy to the family.

(Report Comment)
Fred Miller December 17, 2008 | 9:34 p.m.

Benedictine College may not want me to say this because I'm a grad, too, 1989. But I've driven semis across that bridge a hundred times at least, and I agree with Mick. I hate crossing that bridge. There is no shoulder. It's a ridiculous bridge for the volume of I-70 traffic. I have said for years that Missouri's fuel tax was too low. Now they have to watch this happen while they play catch-up on their road maintenance. This should not have happened, and odd things like this are more likely to happen again.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand December 18, 2008 | 6:29 a.m.

How many accidents have there been on this bridge over the years? Not many, from I remember.

Fred, why do you believe that "odd things like this are more likely to happen again"?

(Report Comment)

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