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Update: Authorities continue search for Xcel worker who fell off Minnesota Falls dam south of Granite Falls, MInn.

Authorities search the Minnesota River Thursday for a missing Xcel Energy worker downstream of the Minnesota Falls dam. The worker apparently fell off the dam about 1 p.m. Wednesday. Tribune photo by Susan Lunneborg

GRANITE FALLS -- A search continues in the Minnesota River below Xcel Energy's Minnesota Falls dam for a worker who fell off the dam and is presumed drowned.

"We're preparing for the worst,'' said John Stich, of Burnsville, a brother of the worker. He was reached by telephone this morning.

A life jacket was found about 100 yards downstream of where Tom Stich, 50, of Rush City is believed to have fallen off the dam and into the churning waters below it. Stich fell off the approximately 17-foot tall dam around 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

Stich said his brother Tom is a union employee working under contract for Xcel Energy at the former Minnesota Valley power plant at Granite Falls.

Tom Stich was working atop the Minnesota Falls dam removing debris that had plugged a gate on the dam. A fellow worker was present in a backhoe which grabbed debris removed by Stich. John Stich said the co-worker said he turned around in the backhoe to drop some of the debris, and when he turned back Tom Stich was no longer there.

The Minnesota River has been flowing at only a few feet below flood level, and the fast-moving waters have complicated search efforts. Stich said authorities told him that the gates at the Churchill dam at Lac qui Parle were being closed to temporarily slow the flow.

The missing worker is one of 11 siblings, and his wife and 25-year-old son are among the family members gathered and watching the search.

Stich said family members are upset that the Xcel Energy and law enforcement did not release information about the search to the media on Wednesday. Stich said the family believes a spotter should have been at the dam with Tom as a safety precaution, but does not believe there was one present.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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