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‘Most challenging dive to date’: Vehicle submerged in 1976 pulled from Mississippi River

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Flipped upside down, the vehicle still had a license plate attached from 1976. Authorities confirmed the vehicle belonged to David Jorgensen who was last seen on February 27, 1976. Kit Murray / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 5
Divers finish pulling the vehicle from the water Thursday afternoon, July 20, 2017, in Red Wing. Kit Murray / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 5
Divers work to pull a submerged vehicle — believed to have gone under in the 1970s — from the Mississippi River on July 20, 2017, near Levee Park. Kit Murray / RiverTown Multimedia4 / 5
Siewert's Towing and Recovery attached chains to the final pieces of the vehicle in order to pull it from the water. Kit Murray / RiverTown Multimedia5 / 5

RED WING — After a vehicle fell through the ice and sunk over forty years ago, many had given up on finding the remnants. Without the technology to find it or the resources to acquire it, the search was declared unachievable — until recently.

Earlier this year, Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office acquired new sonar equipment for one of their patrol boats. During a test run, Sgt. Scott Powers discovered the vehicle sitting at the bottom of the Mississippi River. But due to strong currents and high water levels in the river, authorities had to hold off the search.

On Thursday, July 20, the Goodhue County Sheriff's Office dive team was prepared to recover the vehicle situated near the levee wall. With an idea of why it may be there, it was necessary to recover it, deputies said, in case a body was still inside.

After several hours, the dive had proven to be one of the most challenging for the dive team yet.

“We’re dealing with a no-visibility situation here,” said Steve Sutton-Brown, the dive team leader. “On top of that now, a strong current and unknown entanglements that might be on the vehicle. For us it was a very challenging dive but very rewarding.”

For 20-minute intervals, three divers were prepared to begin latching ropes to the vehicle underwater in order to bring it to the surface. The team managed to first pull out the front axle of the vehicle, with the second extraction holding the remainder.

Finding closure

The vehicle, a two-door 1975 Chevrolet Malibu matched a story on police record from the 1970s.

“We now know the vehicle belonged to David Jorgensen who was last seen on February 27, 1976, on Trenton Island,” said Paul Gielau, Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office patrol commander. “In early-May 1976, (Jorgensen’s) body was located on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River in an area known as Warrentown. The location of his vehicle had been unknown for the past 41 years.”

Jorgensen was 24 years-old when he went missing.

The recovery helped answer questions for family members and friends, including Jorgensen’s sister, Nancy Falk. “I’m just hoping that now we can all begin to find some closure,” she said.

The recovery was a group effort, with Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, Minnesota State Patrol, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Red Wing Fire Department and Siewert’s Towing and Recovery pitching in to make the day a success.

“They were all professional and helpful,” Falk said of the people who took part in the recovery. “I am extremely appreciative of all they did. It is because of their skills that we will have closure."

Kit Murray

Kit Murray joined Red Wing Republican Eagle in Aug. 2016, covering government, transportation and public safety. She is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead with a degree in photojournalism and philosophy. 

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