Teen Feared Drowned
By Dave Forster
Thursday, January 16, 2003
A snowmobile trip turned tragic Wednesday night when a teenager on his sled fell into the icy Red River about four miles south of Fargo’s city limits.
Divers searched the river for more than 40 minutes before officials decided to call it off because the current was too strong. At 9 p.m., about 2½ hours after the accident, Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist assumed the worst.
“The current is quite fast down there,” he said.
Tyler Justin Eicholtz, 18, a Fargo North student, was riding north on the river with two friends after turning around near the bridge on Cass County Road 16, authorities said. After passing under the bridge, the two friends who were riding in front turned around and saw a 10-foot-by-5-foot hole, and their partner was gone.
The friends ran to a nearby farmhouse and within five minutes called police, said Clay County Sheriff’s Lt. Steve Landsem. Within 10 minutes of the call, which came at 6:37 p.m., Moorhead Fire and Rescue was on-site searching the area with poles. They found only a submerged Polaris snowmobile.
The ice was about 2 inches thick where the teen went through, said Bill Borgen, a diver from Valley Water Rescue. Under the ice, a strong current rushed by the bridge beams, making the diving effort difficult and eventually impossible.
Divers will assess the situation today to decide if they should resume the search, Bergquist said.
As rescue workers searched for more than two hours in near-zero temperatures, lights from rescue vehicles flashed overhead.
Soon after the Moorhead Fire Department arrived, the bridge filled with dozens of vehicles from the Clay and Cass county sheriff’s departments, FM Ambulance and Sabin (Minn.) Fire and Rescue.
The other two snowmobilers, ages 16 and 17, also are Fargo North students. Their names were not released. The school’s crisis team met late Wednesday night to discuss a plan for dealing with students’ grief.
The temperature at the time of the accident was 3 degrees, with a southwest wind at 3 mph.
Workers at the Wild Rice Bar and Grill, a popular hangout among snowmobilers less than two miles northwest of the accident site, said late Wednesday they hadn’t seen a sledder all night.
Kody Moore, a Wild Rice bartender and snowmobiler himself, said employees heard about the accident from someone who lives near the bridge.
“On the Red, there aren’t a whole lot of places (for snowmobilers) to cross, so most people cross near bridges,” he said, adding the funneling action of water beneath bridges can melt the ice.
Because many of the trails are “overridden” and short on snow this winter, some sledders opt for riding atop the river, where there’s more snow and it’s less compacted, Moore said.
“They could have been river riding,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of that ... because of this reason.”
City Editor Matthew Von Pinnon