Body of Man Killed in Raft Accident on Flathead River Recovered

Dennis D. Bee, whose late father founded Bee Broadcasting, died after the raft he was on flipped Tuesday afternoon

By Andy Viano
A Flathead County Sheriff search and rescue team loads supplies onto a boat at the Tea Kettle Fishing Access on the Flathead River in Columbia Falls on June 24, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Rescuers have recovered the body of a man who went missing on the Flathead River after his raft capsized near the former Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. plant Tuesday afternoon.

The victim has been identified as Dennis D. Bee, 52, one of three children of the late radio magnate Benny Bee Sr., who passed away last year. The elder Bee opened his first Kalispell radio station in 1979 and went on to create Bee Broadcasting, operating seven stations in the Flathead Valley — KDBR (106.3 FM), KBBZ (98.5 FM), KJJR (107.9 FM/880 AM), KSAM (102.7 FM/1240 AM), KHNK (95.9 FM), KOOL (105.1 FM) and KRVO (103.1 FM).

According to Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino, Dennis Bee and three others were floating the Flathead River on Tuesday when their personal raft overturned around 2 p.m. An adult woman and two children made their way safely to shore, but Bee, who was not wearing a life preserver, disappeared downriver. Heino said the exact circumstances of the accident are unclear at this time.

The occupants of another raft traveling through the area called 911 and a massive air and water search operation ensued, with Flathead County Search and Rescue, North Valley Search and Rescue, Two Bear Air, the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks all assisting. A number of bystanders also assisted in the early stages of the rescue operation.

Bee’s body was eventually discovered in a river eddy at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

The water levels on the Flathead River are high this time of year and the cold water temperatures add an additional level of danger. Experts urge boaters to wear safety equipment, including life preservers, wet suits and helmets, when on the river, and to consider traveling with a licensed outfitter.

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