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Search continues for missing Red River swimmer

While no missing persons reports have been filed, the Grand Forks County Sheriff's Office is working on the assumption the person drowned.

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Northeast Regional Water Operations Team Commander Sgt. Thomas Inocencio monitors his sonar screen as he searches the Red River by the Blue Moose, where the swimmer was seen struggling in the water.
Matt Henson / WDAY-TV
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GRAND FORKS — Hampered by two winter storms and rising river levels, the search continues for a missing swimmer in the Red River between East Grand Forks and Grand Forks.

The Northeast Regional Water Operations team trains twice a month. Wednesday night, April 20, was more than a training exercise as the team tried to solve a nearly two-week mystery.

With temperatures in the upper 40s, many would not think about boating. But that was not the case for Thomas Inocencio, the commander of the water rescue and recovery team.

With the water level down to 26 feet after being above 30 feet, he thought it would be a good day to scour the river.

"This is kind of what we're dealing with right here is (...) the vortexes and the whirlpools in the water," he pointed out as his boat passed under the Sorlie Bridge.

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On April 8, someone called 911 saying a person was struggling to swim in the river by the Blue Moose, went under and never came back up.

Nobody has been reported missing since the incident.

"We can't rule out that there may be somebody in the water, there may not be somebody in the water," said Inocencio.

The water is too deep and murky for divers.

"Searching with divers you're basically looking at a completely darken room," explained Inocencio.

His teams are using sonar to try and find answers.

"It's basically painting an image of what's underneath here. Here would be a tree limb laying down on its side," Inocencio said while pointing to an image on the screen.

It's a search already complicated by high water and swirling currents constantly moving things around, then you add the width of the river which ranges from 200 to 400 feet.

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Inocencio is keeping the width of the sonar on the search around 20 feet on each side of the boat.

"The further you are scanning the smaller objects are," he explained.

He explained what would be seen on the sonar if a body was spotted.

"Often times you can see a silhouette of how they are," said Inocencio. "It's not uncommon when people are swimming that they're going to be in a face down, like in a prone position."

With more rain and snow in the forecast, the river is expected to rise several feet again in the coming days, likely drowning the answers everyone is looking for a little bit longer.

"Every search there's family or people who are looking for them, and just to be able to bring closure," said Inocencio.

No more large scale searches are planned, but agencies from both sides of the river continue to search the water periodically when they have the time and resources.

Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at mhenson@wday.com and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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