Twenty-nine year old Eric Langland of Decorah is believed to have drowned in the Upper Iowa River east of Decorah Saturday.
As of press time Monday morning, his body had not been recovered. Upper Iowa Marine in Decorah was installing sonar equipment on the Decorah Fire Department's flat-bottom boat Monday to help firefighters in their search.
Langland reportedly had been swimming below Upper Dam when another man he was with, who was not swimming, saw him go under the water and fail to resurface. The Decorah Law Enforcement Center received a 911 call from Langland's companion at about 7:20 p.m. Saturday.
The Iowa State Patrol, Winneshiek County Sheriff's Department, Decorah Police Department, Decorah Fire Department, Winneshiek Medical Center ambulance and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources responded. The Waukon Fire Department also brought equipment to the scene.
Searched until dark
When rescuers arrived, they could see no one in the water, according to Sheriff's Deputy Tim Felton. Spotlights and the Decorah Fire Department's rescue boats were used to look for Langland. The search continued until about 11 p.m. Saturday, but was called off due to darkness and the strong current below the dam. The search resumed at about 6 a.m. Sunday.
Felton said Sunday morning firefighters kayaked below the dam to Bolson Bridge, near the Allamakee County line, looking for Langland.
Divers were not being used to locate the drowning victim because the area is not safe, according to Decorah Fire Chief Mike Ashbacher.
"The area is too dangerous to have divers in the water ... because of the undertow, the current that comes off that dam is very unpredictable. We don't want to put any rescuers in danger to make them victims as well," he said.
Swimmers with a life vest lose buoyancy in the aerated water below the dam, and boat propellers don't function properly in aerated water, the chief said.
Dangerous but popular
The area below the dam is popular for swimming, although law enforcement officials discourage it, due the danger from the strong currents. There is a well-worn path on the east bank where swimmers often jump into the river from rope swings. Felton said as soon as law enforcement officers cut the swings down, a new one goes up.
When the dam was blown out years ago, it left a debris field behind of concrete and steel rebar, Ashbacher said.
"We do not recommend swimming there ... it's a dangerous area to be in," Ashbacher said.
Ashbacher said he appreciated the cooperation of all the agencies involved and the assistance from employees at Upper Iowa Marine who will be helping firefighters operate the sonar equipment.
He said his department tried to locate boats with sonar equipment Sunday, but most were too large for the Upper Dam site.
"There is no access for a boat trailer. We have to carry the boat to the water's edge," he said.
Both the north and south access to the dam are closed until further notice.