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UI student in India presumed dead

BY MATT STARNS | SEPTEMBER 27, 2011 7:20 AM

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The search continues for a 20-year-old University of Iowa student who reportedly fell last week while hiking in northern India.

UI junior Thomas Plotkin was studying abroad near Munsiyari, India with the National Outdoor Leadership School, reportedly lost his footing while on a 10-kilometer hike with a group of students near the Goriganga river, a tributary of the Ganges.

Plotkin, a Minnesota native, is presumed dead as the now five-day search continues.

"We're definitely thinking we're in a body-recovery situation," said Bruce Palmer, a spokesman for the group that organized the trip.

The international-business major fell approximately 300 feet down a steep rock face, where he hit a rock ledge at the edge of the river.

Ardell Brenner, Plotkin's grandmother, said it had rained for approximately two hours that day, making the cobblestone trail slippery. She said Plotkin was hiking with the group when he lost his footing, tried to right himself, and twisted his ankle, which had previously undergone surgery.

"The weight of his backpack just took him over," she told The Daily Iowan.

Brenner said a student following behind Plotkin witnessed the fall and alerted instructors who were following the group. The group then attempted to search for Plotkin.

"They searched until it got so dark they couldn't see beyond the scope of their headlamps," she said.

Elizabeth Brenner, Plotkin's mother, had a Skype conference call Monday morning with eight students who were with Plotkin on the trip.

"Thomas was excited and inspired by both the nature of India and the people," Plotkin's grandmother said. She said the students on the Skype call told a number of funny stories about their experience in India with Plotkin.

And friends were in shock when they heard the news.

"It's just something that you can't really make sense of," said Alex de la Peña, one of Plotkin's teammates on the UI lacrosse club. "… something like that happening to such an incredible person."

Palmer said the search efforts remain underway.

"The next day, a much broader search was conducted," he said. "We've been coordinating with the U.S. Embassy. We have several instructors still involved with the search."

Palmer said the search crews — which numbered more than 600 and included military personnel, police, and volunteers — recovered Plotkin's rain jacket and head lamp on the rocky bank of the river.

The search crews used helicopters to comb the area for two days after the incident, when they were called off and the search continued on foot.

Austin Smith, the captain of the UI lacrosse team, was with Plotkin as he decided to go on the trip.

"It just sucks," said Smith. "He wanted to get away from college for a bit and do something he'd never have the chance to do again. He just wanted to have a good time."


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