A search for a missing person who authorities suspect fell into the Yellowstone River near Columbus was suspended indefinitely on Wednesday, according to the Stillwater County Sheriff's Office.
The sheriff's office cited thick ice and difficult search conditions as reasons for stopping the search. It will resume when the weather warms, said Crystal Arnold, a sheriff's office employee who was the incident commander for the initial search effort.
"We're having difficulty even getting underwater equipment down there to visibly see anything, and when we do get it down there, all we're seeing is ice," Arnold said.
In some places the ice is as thick as 2 feet and Arnold said that ice stretching up to 15 feet from the river bank at the beginning of the search now extends 30 to 40 feet into the river from the banks.
The search began Dec. 13 after a bicycle was found near the river along with footprints that led to the river but not back. Someone later reported hearing a scream near the river the night before, said Tammie Mullikin, a Stillwater County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman.
Before winter weather postponed the search Friday, search dogs had shown interest in a frozen portion of the river at Itch-Kep-Pe Park near where the person is believed to have gone into the water.
On Wednesday, the ice shelf "was searched to the extent that conditions allowed," but there were no signs of the missing person, according to the press release written by Undersheriff Charles "Chip" Kem.
The search was joined by a Two Bear Air search and rescue helicopter from Kalispell and a Flathead County Sheriff's Office deputy with an underwater remote-controlled camera, the release says.
Arnold said an extensive air search was conducted for about four miles from the suspected entry point of the missing person, and a lap along the river down to Park City was also taken.
The water was very clear, leading searchers to believe they would have spotted the person if they were not somewhere under the ice, Arnold said.
Ice flow and weather conditions will continue to be monitored, and search efforts will continue under improved conditions, Arnold said.
"It being Montana, we could get a week of 40 degree weather, and that will bring down the ice levels considerably," she said.