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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Search for missing boy frustrates Okoboji crews, Grief Workshop today

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Nearly a month has passed since a barge went down in West Lake Okoboji, taking with it 31-year-old Matthew Molacek of Wallingford and 12-year-old Collin Helmers of Estherville.

Crews discovered the body of Molacek a few days following the incident. The search continues for Helmers.

"It's been frustrating," said Dickinson County Sheriff Greg Baloun.

Helmers and Molacek were on board a barge when it sank Saturday, Oct. 23 near Gull Point.

Crews from throughout the U.S. have come to aid in the search. Dive teams, trained dogs, sonar specialists and other emergency crews have dedicated hundreds of hours to the effort.

Sonar experts from Idaho and Georgia have worked with special equipment to search the bottom of the lake. The use a new version of the side-scan sonar equipment and are very experienced in deep water searches.

Gene Ralston from Ralston & Associates, an Idaho-based consulting firm, began the high-tech sonar work and spent a week and a half searching West Lake. They worked through last Tuesday and covered approximately 10 percent of the 3,000 acre lake.

A new sonar team, The Seth Foundation from Georgia, arrived Friday and picked up where Ralston & Associates left off. They had to fly out Sunday.

Dive teams are on call and go down when the sonar detects a potential target. Daily pontoon patrols of the lake's surface also continue.

Dickinson County officials say they are determined to find Helmers and will continue to search as long as resources last.

"I suppose we're two weeks to a month out from the lake freezing," said Baloun. "The weather's been good and cooperative lately. We'll continue to search until it starts to freeze - for as long as it's safe to be out there."

Baloun and others are in awe of the volunteer effort put forth in the search for Helmers.

"All of the help has been volunteer," he said. "There's an endless list of people that have contributed to this - food and drinks, rooms, equipment. It's endless; it's just remarkable. It's almost unheard of."

As the emotional search continues, families and friends of Helmers and Molacek struggle to deal with the incident.

In light of the recent tragedy, the Estherville Area Ministerial Association in conjunction with other Estherville businesses and organizations are planning a grief workshop.

The workshop is scheduled from 6:30-8 p.m. today at the Estherville Lincoln Central Middle School.

The workshop will provide youth, adults and families with information and skills that will help them in coping with loss.

"I hope that the attendees will at one level get info and skills to more effectively cope with loss and grief," said Rev. Glenn Bohmer. "I hope that they will recognize that it's okay to express their grief as they are there with others who have similar feelings and needs."

The presenter is Laura Schuldt, a licensed professional counselor with Avera McKennan Behavioral Services, Sioux Falls, S.D. The workshop is free and is open to all. "We really are hoping that families will come - that it won't be a solo type of thing," said Bohmer. "We will have a special activity for the children. We'd like to see kids up through high school - not just younger ones."

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