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Family persists in search for missing Medford woman

A week after Josephine County Search and Rescue suspended its search for a Medford woman swept away in the Illinois River, Tina Behneke's family is persisting in their search.

On May 17, currents swept the 21-year-old woman away while swimming with friends near Galice. Two days later, Josephine County Search and Rescue suspended the search because of dangerous river conditions stemming from flows about 10 times greater than normal.

But Behneke's sister, Nicole Burnett, says that the family hasn't given up the search.

"We've had to do everything ourselves because of the suspended search," Burnett said.

On Thursday, local drone operator Mark Unger flew 2½ miles down the Illinois River past where Behneke disappeared near Store Gulch, about eight miles from Galice. Family and friends searched the banks in an organized effort Wednesday. 

Burnett and Behneke's brother, Brent Behneke, have searched daily. At one point during the search, Brent Behneke's girlfriend suffered heat stroke, Burnett said.

"My brother hasn't stopped searching for her," Burnett said. "He feels almost helpless, defeated I would say. As the days go by, that little light of hope diminishes and it crushes our spirit."

During Josephine County SAR's search, a dive team searched for Behneke's body about a half mile past where the rapids where her friends last saw her. Flows were about 1,000 cubic feet per second, rescuers reported. Josephine County SAR plans to continue the search later in the summer.

Behneke's disappearance was one in a series of unfortunate events for Burnett, whose husband recently suffered a heart attack. Burnett has worked as a "messenger" over the past week, overseeing a "Find Tina Behneke" Facebook page that helps plan searches.

The family is seeking volunteers and funds. A Gofundme page has raised $1,495 in six days.

Although Burnett said the money was initially intended for funeral expenses, they also need professional help in order to search deeper into the rugged Illinois River canyon. Burnett said she also intends to ask the state for additional resources in the search.

Search efforts are posted on the Facebook page, though Burnett warns that the terrain is treacherous.

"It's not an easy task," Burnett said. "We don't want to put anyone's lives in danger."

Tina Behneke, who had recently moved out of her parents' Medford home, worked at the RAM Restaurant & Brewery in Medford, according to her Facebook profile.

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Tina Behneke went missing went missing May 17 after strong currents pulled her away while swimming near Store Gulch, about eight miles from Galice. [Photo courtesy of a gofundme page devoted to the search efforts]