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UPDATE: Search for drowning victim near Rocheport to continue Thursday

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 | 9:15 p.m. CST; updated 10:38 p.m. CST, Wednesday, December 17, 2008

COLUMBIA — Recovery operations for 20-year-old John P. Forget of Chesterfield ended Wednesday evening with no results. Forget is suspected of having 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. The search will resume Thursday morning, weather permitting.

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.

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

A Mass was celebrated for Forget on Tuesday night in a chapel at Benedictine, 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. Wednesday, 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 drops a towfish into the water to emit sound waves in all directions to detect objects, Callahan said.

With estimated water temperatures in the low 40s, Callahan said it was too cold to send a diver out and that 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, the eastbound vehicle in which Forget 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 to check the banks near the bridge, Blomenkamp said.

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

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 the water.

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


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Comments

Hayley Tsukayama December 18, 2008 | 5:23 p.m.

This is Missourian reporter Hayley Tsukayama, posting the following comment for Al Alvord:
I have been driving on Highway 70 for many years and I know that bridge has no shoulder on which to pull over.
Let me ask you, WHY did they go ahead and drive on the highway when the snow or icy weather was so bad?? WHY didn't they wait until the next day so the road would be dry and safe to drive on?
Do NOT blame Missouri for low gas prices. If you do not want to wait until the road is safe then it is YOUR risk.
I am very sorry and saddened to know what happened and I WISH that people would use their brains and put off their road trips.
I was planning to go to St Charles, MO last Tuesday, but I put it off and did not take any chances. I have put it off until tomorrow (Friday).
To be honest, I felt very disgusted that people went ahead and drove on a bad road. It was very dumb and plain stupid. People like me who have put off traveling until the road is safe are very smart and wise.
The truck driver ought to have stopped for them or gotten off the road to get rest!!
I will be praying for his family and friends. I’m very sorry for his family. I hope this message will help everyone to think TWICE about the bad icy or snow on the highway or roads. BE PATIENT!!!

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