MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Search and rescue efforts are underway after a man, who was working at a dam site near Granite Falls, went into the water.
The Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office said they received a call on Wednesday, reporting that a man went over the dam, south of Granite Falls.
When authorities arrived on scene, it was discovered that the man was working on the dam site when he went into the water. He hasn’t been seen since around noon on Wednesday.
Authorities identified the man Thursday as 50-year-old Thomas Stich of Harris.
“He was doing his job the best he knew at the time and then the next moment he was gone,” said Steve Roalstad, spokesman for Xcel Energy.
Roalstad says Stich was clearing debris from the dam, which is typically done once per year.
“It is truly, truly a tragedy, almost like losing a family member. I know from the top of the company all of our hearts go out to the family,” said Roalstad.
Stich was one of 11 siblings, according to his younger brother, John Stich of Burnsville.
“I didn’t just lose a big brother today, I lost a best friend,” said John, who describes his brother as fearless. “He wasn’t afraid of work, I don’t think he ever thought about falling, he only thought about succeeding.”
Search crews from Chippewa and Hennepin Counties searched eight miles of river, but the force of the water only turned up a life vest, and rescuers say currents now point underneath the dam.
Late Thursday, the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office put crew members into a crane and lowered them into the dam, which they believe was the only safe way to search the treacherous waters underneath the dam. However, they ended the day without a discovery.
For family members who wait on scene for answers, grief surfaces with worries of safety.
“I think they should have had a supervisor or spotter, that is my opinion,” said John Stich.
“All those things are going to be investigated, no question. When we say safety is a core value, we mean it. we preach it, practice it and put it into play every single day,” said Steve Roalstad, spokesman for Xcel Energy.
Search crews will be back out on the Minnesota River Friday morning, where their attention will turn to miles of shoreline.
The Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office, Yellow Medicine County Sheriff’s Office, Minnesota DNR, State Patrol and Granite Falls Fire Department are working together to recover his body. The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office is assisting at the scene with sonar equipment.
Family members say Tom Stich had a 25-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter, as well as two grandchildren.
John Stich describes his brother was a dedicated workhorse during his eight years on the job.
“I hope it was quick and painless,” said Stich. “I pray to God.”