Published April 09 2011
River hunting trek turns tragic
Michael Miller, 59, and Dewey “Don” Grieve, 69, were lifelong friends, born on the same day 10 years apart. Friends said they loved hunting and engaged in the sport together for more than 40 years.
The two men knew the Maple River well, but during natural disasters, fatalities can still happen despite such life experience, Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said.
“This was their home; they’ve been on that water many, many times,” Laney said. “These guys were very experienced in this area – and tragedy still befell them.”
Their families reported them missing at 9:15 p.m. Thursday when the men didn’t return home from a beaver hunting trip on the nearby Maple River, Cass County officials said.
Search and rescue teams were dispatched to locate the men near where their pickup was found by the river at Cass County Road 12, about two miles south of Interstate 94 and two miles west.
Buffalo is about 40 miles west of Fargo.
The men’s families had attempted a ground search late Thursday to no avail.
Miller and Grieve had last been in contact with others around 4 p.m. Thursday when they filled their pickup with gas in Buffalo.
Sanford Health’s LifeFlight helicopter aided in an aerial search overnight, before a North Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopter took over the rescue mission.
During the Guard’s second sweep of the area, authorities spotted the men’s capsized boat in the Maple River about a mile south of Cass County 12.
The current was moving so swiftly Laney delayed the water search until daybreak to ensure the safety of the search and rescue teams.
“To deploy our team in the dark, we would’ve been potentially doing two search and rescues,” Laney said. “So as bad as you want to get in there and as bad as you want to deploy and go, you’ve got to be smart.”
As sunrise hit, a Valley Water Rescue team entered the river in a Zodiac boat, along with both of Cass County’s new airboats and an airboat from Burleigh County.
Meanwhile, authorities also tried unsuccessfully to track the men using their cellphone signals.
During the morning, as many as 12 family friends gathered at a traffic barricade on County Road 12 about a half-mile east of the river, where the search effort was staged.
The friends huddled in small groups or stood alone in silence.
Some cried, others talked occasionally – but each continued to look westward for any sign of what might have happened to their missing friends.
By 8:30 a.m., rescue crews had recovered Miller and Grieve from the river near their boat, Laney said.
The strong current played a role in the men’s deaths, but authorities aren’t sure exactly what happened, Laney said.
Initial investigation revealed the men likely weren’t wearing life preservers, he said.
Authorities believe Miller and Grieve were shooting at beavers from their boat.
Beavers can become more active during floods and swim in the water, Chief Deputy Jim Thoreson said.
The deaths brought heightened solemnity to this year’s flood fight, in which community leaders have been largely ahead of the game in protecting the region.
The two Buffalo men marked the second and third deaths of this year’s Red River Valley flood.
Quentin Goehring, 73, died Wednesday night of a massive heart attack while he was sandbagging his home in Oakport Township north of Moorhead.
In the wake of Thursday’s incident, authorities reminded residents to use caution, avoid floodwaters and not risk their well-being.
“You always have to be safe, and you always have to watch your environment,” Laney said, adding “it breaks your heart, but I’m just glad we could bring them home.”
Thursday’s tragedy coincided with a political struggle to secure a full disaster declaration from the White House – which would cover the cost of emergency operations and make available federal equipment and personnel.
President Barack Obama signed a partial declaration late Thursday – 41 days after Gov. Jack Dalrymple had sent the request to Washington.
Because of the delay, local leaders thought federal resources likely wouldn’t be available in this year’s flood fight, forcing Cass County’s resources to be stretched thin.
Thursday night’s search and rescue effort served as “a good indication of why we need assets and need assets early,” Cass County Commission Chairman Darrell Vanyo said Friday at Fargo’s flood briefing.
The outcome of Thursday’s tragedy likely wouldn’t have changed had those federal assets been there, Laney said.
But having the help also wouldn’t have forced all of Cass County’s search and rescue resources to a single location.
“I didn’t like having all my boats in one spot when we’ve got a flood fight all around us, so in that sense, it would’ve helped,” Laney said.
Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki contributed to this article.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541