The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 24, 2013

Search for drowning victim continues as river rises

Authorities say kayaks flipped in sharp turn of river east of Courtland and south of River Ridge Gun Club

By Dan Nienaber

---- — COURTLAND — A search for a missing South Dakota man continued on the Minnesota River Monday as rain and rising waters threatened to make the job more difficult.

Stephen Fritze, 50, of Watertown S.D. has been missing since Saturday evening. He and two friends from the same city, Cameron Buri and John Carter, were kayaking together when they rounded a sharp turn in the river and hit debris.

At least two of the three kayaks capsized sometime before 8 p.m. Fritze's friends reported he was holding on to a kayak that was floating downstream. Fritze traveled under a branch before going under. He was not wearing a life jacket.

After two days of searching, law enforcement officers from several agencies were still focusing on the area where Fritze was last seen, said Chief Deputy Karl Jensen of the Nicollet County Sheriff's Department. That area is on a portion of the river just west of Courtland and south of the River Ridge Gun Club.

Burl and Carter, who were wearing life jackets, were able to get out of the water and walk to the gun club.

Other observers were working downstream watching for Fritze's body in case it breaks free. Jensen said, due to the amount of debris where Fritze was last seen, it's possible that his body was caught in branches under water.

The river, which was high when the men started their trip at some point on the Cottonwood River, had risen two feet since the search was called off Sunday night, Jensen said Monday. He said he was being told the river could rise another five feet by Thursday.

The Cottonwood River empties into the Minnesota River a few miles northwest of Courtland. Jensen said he did not know where the men put their kayaks in the water or where they planned to end their trip.