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Published April 08, 2011, 09:34 AM

Hunters' Bodies Found in Maple River in Cass County

Two Buffalo men who went missing after going beaver hunting on the flooded Maple River were found dead this morning, Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said.

By: Kristen Daum, Forum Communications

BUFFALO, N.D. – Two Buffalo men who went missing after going beaver hunting on the flooded Maple River were found dead this morning, Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said.

The hunters’ bodies were recovered near their capsized boat, which had been located by a National Guard Blackhawk helicopter overnight a mile south of the Cass County Road 12 bridge over the Maple River.

Laney said the strong current of the flooded river played a role in the men’s deaths, but authorities aren’t sure exactly what happened.

Immediate family members of the hunters have been notified, and out of respect for them, authorities haven’t released the men’s names yet.

Laney said there was no indication the hunters were wearing life preservers. He said they were experienced in that area and they knew the river.

The hunters’ families reported them missing at 9:15 p.m. Thursday when they didn’t return home from a beaver hunting trip on the Maple River, County Administrator Bonnie Johnson said.

Sheriff’s deputies found the hunters’ pickup on the Maple River 2 miles south of Interstate 94 and 2 miles west of Cass County 38.

The hunters, ages 69 and 59, had last been in contact with others around 4 p.m. when they filled their pickup with gas in Buffalo. Friends of the men at the scene said they were born on the same day 10 years apart and have been hunting together for more than 40 years.

Family members launched a ground search Thursday but were unsuccessful.

As daylight broke this morning, a Valley Water Rescue team in a Zodiac boat and a Cass County airboat began searching the flooded Maple River downstream from where the pickup was found, Johnson said. Authorities also searched with ATVs and tried unsuccessfully to track the hunters using their cell phone signals. Sanford Health’s LifeFlight helicopter also was used in the aerial search.

During the morning flood briefing in Fargo, Cass County Commission Chairman Darrell Vanyo said the search was “a good indication of why we need assets and need assets early,” an apparent reference to the fact President Obama didn’t sign an emergency declaration until Thursday to make federal resources available to Cass County and three other counties in North Dakota.

Vanyo’s voice quivered as he spoke softly about being “extremely proud” of how the sheriff’s department handled the situation.

“I think it should make us all aware of the fact that even though we get good at preparing ourselves for flood fighting and for doing missions like this, it’s very difficult nonetheless when something like this happens,” he said, adding it serves as a safety reminder.

Reporter Mike Nowatzki contributed to this article.

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