The family of Thomas Stich received closure when the 50-year-old Harris man’s body was discovered downstream from the Xcel Energy-owned Minnesota Falls Dam just before noon on Friday. The dam is located one-third of a mile southeast of Granite Falls.


The family of Thomas Stich received closure when the 50-year-old Harris man’s body was discovered downstream from the Xcel Energy-owned Minnesota Falls Dam just before noon on Friday. The dam is located one-third of a mile southeast of Granite Falls.

Stich was removing debris atop the dam with a co-worker when he fell into the water below at approximately 1 p.m. Wednes­day.

The co-worker, who was operating a backhoe along the bank, was reported to have said that he turned around and Stich was suddenly gone. Shortly after, Stich’s life jacket was recovered 100 yards downstream.

An extensive search for the man was led by the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office with the aid of the Yellow Medicine County Sheriff’s Office, Minnesota DNR, Granite Falls Fire Department, Minnesota State Patrol and Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, which assisted with sensitive sonar equipment.

In addition, the Army Corps of Engineers shut down Lac qui Parle Dam to reduce the near flood stage water levels.

Seven boats searched downstream from the dam until 8 p.m. Wednesday evening and, according to the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office, were back on the river by 9 a.m. Thursday morning. A crane arrived at the scene later that day and was used to hoist individuals over the turbulent waters just below the dam. It was hoped that Stich’s body might be located and dislodged from submerged obstructions or recirculating waters.

The search continued early Friday and it was believed that it was the efforts with the crane that removed Stich’s body from the undertow and enabled it to surface. He was spotted about a half-mile downstream by two of his nephews, according to Chippewa County Sheriff Stacy Tufto.

The nearly two dozen family members who had traveled to Granite Falls following news of the accident expressed relief that their kin’s body had been recovered. “You always have that sliver of hope … but we knew this was going to be the outcome,” said Stich’s sister Mary Eaton.

Family members also commended local authorities and Xcel for their search efforts. A?minimum of 35 individuals were said to taken part in the endeavor each day.

“They were just wonderful,” said Eaton of Xcel, which went to considerable expense to bring in the crane and also paid for the family’s food and lodging. “It was like it was their family.”

According to Xcel media representative Steve Roal­stad, Stich had been with the company for eight years. He said the work being performed was of a routine nature, carried out annually.

“This is truly a tragedy for our employee’s family, friends and co-workers and for all of us at Xcel Energy. Our hearts go out to all who have been affected,”  read a statement from the company. “Safety is our top priority, for our employees as well as the general public … We also will be conducting our own investigation to determine the cause of the accident.”

Xcel is currently taking steps to remove the dam, which was built in 1905 as a hydroelectric dam and operated as such until the late 1950s.