According to the Star Tribune, Harter's equipment caught on a submerged car he and four other divers were investigating. When a fellow diver cut Harter's rope in an attempt to free him from the car, the swift currents swept Harter downstream. Currents swept the other four divers away as well, separating the group from Harter.
While the other divers were able to reach the shore and call for help 10-15 minutes after the initial separation, Harter's body could not be found.
Eric Cole, professor of biology and a diving partner of Harter's, praised Harter's enthusiastic approach to diving.
"Nic truly enjoyed these remarkable new environments, and seemed to celebrate each experience," Cole said. "He was comfortable underwater, and seemed at ease and at home with the experience."
Harter's disappearance and probable death has significantly affected the St. Olaf campus as students and faculty search for closure.
Many students came into contact with Harter, who was known as a popular cafeteria worker. Harter's presence at the checker station is already missed by both students and employees.
"Nic was a valued and loved member of our food service family, and our Caf employees and student workers have been deeply saddened by his death," Hays Atkins, general manager of Bon Appétit, said.
Harter worked at Stav Hall and was the supervisor of Elsa Marty '07. "I was just getting to know him as a friend," Marty said. She and a friend spent time with Harter the Friday evening before his accident, and had an enjoyable night eating pizza and talking.
"I was with him one day, and the next day he wasn't there," Marty said.
The first word which came to many minds when asked to describe Harter was "happy."
"He always had a positive attitude," Chris Rolfes '06 said. Rolfes lived in Harter's corridor during their first year at St. Olaf, and the two were in the same Latin class. Rolfes remembers forming a Latin "support group" with Harter and two other classmates.
Religion professor Doug Schuurman, mentioned Harter's creative, fun-loving personality. "It is hard to imagine anyone not liking him," he said.
Jolene Barjesteh, associate professor of French, described Harter as a "warm, charming, vibrant young person - - someone who always had a smile on his face. His positive, optimistic attitude was linked with his love of poetry."
Harter was known as an avid poetry lover and writer. Harter published a book of poetry, and had a St. Olaf e-mail alias which he used to send out poems.
"Nic had the soul of a poet - - one who is sensitive to the lyrical, musical quality of expressive language," Barjesteh said. "He always enjoyed sharing his work with his classmates, and they, in turn, appreciated his poetic voice."
Harter also shared poetry with one of his professors, Steve Reece, professor of classics.
"Nic was a big man who looked like a Minnesota woodsman, but he loved poetry," Reece said. "What a delightfully thoughtful and sensitive person."
As Harter's family and the student body wait for definitive news, they look to each other and to memories of Harter for comfort and peace.
There will be two memorial services for Harter. The first one will be at his home church, Normandale Lutheran Church, in Edina on Friday at 2 p.m. The on-campus one will take place Tuesday, Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. in Boe Chapel.