Search temporarily suspended for missing boater

By Katy Nesbitt, The Observer March 26, 2014 05:06 am

Story updated at 1:50 p.m. Wednesday.

ENTERPRISE – The search continued into Tuesday afternoon for the body of a Caldwell, Idaho, man who has been missing since his boat capsized in the Snake River Friday.

By 2 p.m., Tuesday, the search was temporarily suspended due to weather, water conditions and the need for additional equipment, a Wallowa County Sheriff’s Office release said.

Sheriff Steve Rogers had been at the scene since Saturday. He said continuing the  underwater search requires adequate sunlight and overcast conditions Tuesday were making the search difficult and the forecast calls for rainstorms through Sunday.

Rogers said a National Guard helicopter thoroughly searched the area where Ricky Flores, 42, disappeared along with a 24-foot jet boat. Only a small amount of debris from the boat has been found.

At the time of the accident, the boat and its three occupants were traveling upstream through a Class 4 rapid known as Wild Sheep, Rogers said. The river was running at approximately 22,000 cubic feet per second. The boat hit a rock approximately a foot under the water.

Rogers said it appears that when the boat ran over the rock, the bottom was scraped. The boat was thrown backwards, lost power, was thrown back a second time and flipped upside down.

Two of the occupants, Charles Gissel, 42, of Ontario and Eric Meyerhoffer, 43, of Payette, Idaho, made it to the Oregon shore approximately a half mile downstream from the accident. No one onboard was wearing a life preserver, Rogers said.

Idaho Power, the corporation that runs the Hells Canyon Dam, reduced the water level to 9,000 cubic feet per second during the underwater search, Rogers said. A whitewater dive expert from Redmond, Mark Angel, scoured the bottom of the river at several points downriver from the accident scene and used 16-foot poles to probe the bottom of the river.

“With one of those you can tell the difference between rocks, sand, gravel and a human body,” Rogers said.

Rogers said he and Deputy Joe Reeves spent the better part of Tuesday looking for Flores. All told, nearly 30 miles of river have been searched, Rogers said.

The capsized boat was one of several on the river last week used to shoot video in the Hells Canyon to market Bohnenkamp’s Whitewater Customs boats out of Meridian, Idaho, Rogers said.

The Wallowa County Sheriff’s office release said the search will resume within the next five days.