Rescue crews respond to car in river near downtown Missoula


MISSOULA, Mont. - Rescue crews responded Tuesday afternoon to reports of a vehicle in the Clark Fork River.

A maroon van or SUV was reported to have gone over the edge of the parking lot at Taco John's on West Broadway and into the river. According to Missoula County Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer Paige Pavalone, it happened shortly before 4:30 p.m.

"I've never seen something like that before," said eyewitness Jesse Reed.

NBC Montana spoke with an eyewitness and two other witnesses who didn't want to go on camera.

"He stopped for a second and then just, it looked like his brakes weren't working and then he went over. It kind of freaked me out, because it was an older gentleman in the vehicle, he was between like 60 or 80," said Reed.

Officials say a search is underway by Missoula County and described the man in the car, who is believed to be in his 60s or 70s.

"He had white or gray hair, possibly had sideburns," said Public Information Officer with the Missoula Police Department Travis Welsh.

Witnesses say they tried to help the man, but the current was too fast.

"Me and three other people were chasing after him, trying to keep an eye on him so we could tell the cops before they got here, but then all of a sudden we got to the railroad tracks and none of us could find him," said Reed.

Hours later, crews say they found something that they believe could be the vehicle and got a crane out on the train trestle.

"We're trying to establish a working platform above what we believe is the vehicle," said Assistant Chief of Operations for the Missoula Fire Department Jeff Brandt.

Crews told NBC Montana that they were out in the water with poles, saying they hit something metal in the water.

"We believe that it's about6 feet underneath," said Brandt.

Officials don't know if the object in the water is the vehicle.

At 9:30 p.m. the search and recovery operations were put on hold because of poor lighting and unsafe water conditions. The search efforts will continue on Wednesday morning.

If you witnessed the incident or have information leading to the identity of the driver, you are urged to call Detective Chris Shermer at (406) 552-6296 or Detective Jamie Merifield at (406) 552-6291.

NBC Montana is continuing to follow this developing story and we will keep you updated as soon as we have any more information.

To read the full press release, click here.

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