A 20-year-old Minnetonka man on a semester-abroad outdoors-adventure trip in India was missing and presumed dead Saturday after he fell 100 yards Thursday while hiking above the Ganges River.
Tom Plotkin, a former Hopkins High School hockey and lacrosse player, was hiking on a cobblestone trail with five students near Munsiyari, India, when he twisted his ankle and fell down a steep drop to a boulder-strewn ledge by the flooding Ganges, said Phil Forve, a family friend, from Plotkin's home in Minnetonka on Saturday afternoon.
"They found his jacket caught on the rocks" by the river, which is swollen in this rainy season and too dangerous for search boats, Forve said. It was raining lightly, and Plotkin had strapped his waterproof jacket over his heavy pack. His head lamp was also found.
About 600 Indians -- military personnel, police officers and volunteers -- have been looking for Plotkin, stopping only at nightfall, Forve said. The search is expected to resume Sunday morning.
Plotkin was a junior majoring in international business at the University of Iowa, and was interested in sustainable development, Forve said. He was enrolled for a semester in the National Outdoor Leadership School of Lander, Wyo.
The school issued a release Saturday that said two instructors on the hike immediately began a search after Plotkin fell, joined later by Indian border police and the Indian army, which sent two helicopters. The search had extended 25 miles downstream.
"We are deeply saddened by this accident," said John Gans, executive director of the 46-year-old school. "Our thoughts and sympathy are with the family, and we remain in close contact with them."
Forve said authorities say the search is now considered an effort to recovery Plotkin's body.
Elizabeth Brenner, Plotkin's mother, said from her Minnetonka home that her son left for India in August and she last heard from him about two weeks ago before a group of 25 students and staff began a 57-day hike in northern India.
"He said, 'I love it. I love India. I love being here.' He was very happy. It was something he really wanted to do," she said.
Brenner said her son "had a huge, generous, kind heart and a lot of intellectual curiosity about the world. The combination made him completely excited about what he was going to do in India. ... He saw this as connected to his future. He had a notion of finding a way to feed and care for everyone on this planet. It was important to him."
Plotkin was very physically fit and loved the outdoors, Forve said. He was a big-hearted guy with many friends and a Honda Civic with a sticker that said, "I love my grandma," Forve added.
Plotkin has two older brothers. Their father lives in Houston, Texas.
"Everyone is devastated," Brenner said.
She said she will most remember her tall, broad-shouldered son's hugs.
"He would smile and put his arms around me," she said. "When he hugged me, it was so real -- so much tenderness. I'll never forget it."
Jim Adams • 952-746-3283