Search for kayaker continues

COURTLAND – Forty area law enforcement and fire department personnel used nine boats, searched on shore and watched the rising Minnesota River flow past a highway bridge near a boat access Monday as the search for a missing 51-year-old Watertown, S.D. kayaker continued.

The search was called off Monday evening, and it will resume at 7 a.m. today.

The Nicollet County Sheriff’s Office received a call at 8:04 p.m. Saturday about a missing kayaker on the Minnesota River west of Courtland. Three Watertown, S.D. men were kayaking when they became tangled in brush and overturned, according to a sheriff’s office news release.

Two of the men – Cameron Buri and John Carter – made it to shore. Stephen Fritze did not make it to shore. After calling authorities, law enforcement and fire department personnel quickly responded and the search began.

“Two kayaks were missing at first. We found one the first night in some dead fall (masses of brush and fallen trees) in the river,” said Nicollet County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Karl Jensen. “We also found a bag with personal affects, a paddle and a beverage cooler.”

Watercraft used in Monday’s search efforts included a 200-horsepower jet boat with sonar, operated by four personnel from the Blue Earth and Nicollet County Sheriff’s departments and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“This is a real river boat,” said one of the men in the boat. “We don’t have to worry about tree debris. We can go right over it.”

Another boat was operated by Tom Romaine of the New Ulm DNR office and DNR Conservation Officer Chad Davis of Owatonna.

“There’s lots of debris in the river, and it keeps rising,” Davis said. “This is one of the tougher searches I’ve done.”

Courtland Fire Department member Vic Roepke stood on a highway bridge over the Minnesota River, near the boat access, looking for anything in the water that might lead to the recovery of the kayaker.

“The river keeps rising and the current is faster today than it was Sunday,” Roepke said. “I’ve seen all sizes of brush in the river.”

Jensen said he’s hopeful search efforts will be successful.

“We’re bringing in dogs trained to detect human scent Tuesday,” Jensen said. “We’ll take the dogs to places where we think he may be.”

Jensen said Fritze visited the New Ulm area because he has family members nearby.

Personnel involved in the search included the Nicollet, Brown, Blue Earth and Le Sueur County Sheriff’s departments, New Ulm Fire and Rescue, Courtland Fire Department and the DNR.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at

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