KALISPELL — Authorities have released the name of a Whitefish man who died while rafting on the Flathead River near Columbia Falls.
Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino says the body of 52-year-old Dennis Bee was pulled from the water at around 9 a.m. on Wednesday.
Emergency dispatchers received a call on Tuesday at approximately 2 p.m. that a raft had flipped over after hitting a large rock in the water, and one person was still in the water.
Sheriff Heino said that four people were on the raft when it flipped; a woman and two children were able to safely rejoin the raft; several bystanders attempted to rescue the man who was later identified as Bee.
The initial cause of death is drowning but has not been confirmed pending a full autopsy, according to Sheriff Heino.
North Valley Search and Rescue, Flathead Search and Rescue, Two Bear Air Rescue, The Sheriff's Office and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks all responded to the scene. Search operations were conducted throughout the evening and resumed at 6 a.m. on Wednesday.
Sheriff Heino noted that Bee was not wearing a life jacket at the time of the accident.
"We ask everyone to be aware of the cold water conditions and high water flows currently on our rivers. Please wear safety equipment and ensure you gather information about river conditions," he noted in a news release.
Tiffany Ekern, engaged to Bee, posted on Facebook: "Dennis, the girls and I had a beautiful day on the river yesterday.. followed by an accident that took Dennis's life. He was our rock, love, father, friend, partner, everything.. please reach out to Taylor and Baylee if you know them. They need comfort and support. Please reach out to Nikki, Logan, Molly and Sam. We are missing him so much.. we cannot explain this loss. Dennis was a patriot, wanted the best for everyone. Dennis was a happy man, loved his family more than life itself."