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SEARCH CONTINUES FOR S.L. MAN SWEPT AWAY BY RIVER RAPIDS

SHARE SEARCH CONTINUES FOR S.L. MAN SWEPT AWAY BY RIVER RAPIDS

Searchers continued their efforts throughout the weekend to locate a Salt Lake man last seen Thursday floating through Colorado River rapids near a popular picnic area upstream from here.

Dennis Astle, 41, 2227 Evergreen Ave., has been the object of an extensive river search since 8:17 p.m. Thursday, when members of a vacationing church group reported he became separated from a swimming party and disappeared.The accident was reported by Astle's son Brian, 16, and James Bevan after the group searched along the river 10 miles upstream near Big Bend Picnic Area for about two hours.

"They told us they were swimming through rapids at Big Bend and that they'd seen Dennis floating down the river. He was separated from them," said investigating officer Kent Green, Grand County Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff Jim Nyland said Astle was with a small group consisting mainly of young people, who entered the river above the park area with plans to float through one of two sets of rapids, then swim to shore.

"He was helping some 12-year-olds get over to the bank. He went on to the second set. One of the guys saw him in the rapids. They were getting the kids," Nyland said. "In a half hour they went back . . . but didn't find him and it was getting dark so they came to us."

Witnesses told officers Astle was wearing a secured lifejacket.

Nyland said a concentrated search along shoreline within a five-mile radius as far south as Hite Marina on Lake Powell produced nothing Friday.

"We haven't had any indication he's crawled up on the bank. We feel he's still in the water," Nyland said.

The county search-and-rescue team and law officers set up powerful floodlights at the river boat dock north of Moab to aid the nightwatch Friday.

A post was also established at Big Bend where Astle had been camping with a group of nearly 40 people since Tuesday. All but a handful of the group returned to Salt Lake on Friday, Nyland said.

He said the 24-hour watch will be discontinued after four days if it is not successful.

"As warm as it is, as warm as the temperature of the water is, within four days a body would surface," Nyland said.

Volunteers, rangers with the National Park Service, commercial pilots, recreation boaters and commercial outfitters from Hite to Moab joined the search Friday.