MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Two children are dead and another is in critical condition after a boat capsized on Clearwater Lake in northern Minnesota Friday afternoon, according to the Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office.
The Beltrami County Sheriff’s office received a report of capsized both with three children unaccounted for at about 3:15 p.m. Friday. The report indicated a father and three small children, ages 2, 6 and 8 years old, were in the boat when it capsized. The father then swam to shore and summoned help.
Deputies and emergency responders from both Beltrami and Clearwater counties immediately responded. With the help of many other assisting agencies, the three children were removed and taken to area hospitals. CPR was in progress when they were taken.
Family members WCCO-TV that 2-year-old Jacob Risland and 6-year-old boy Zechariah Risland have died in the accident. 8-year-old Isaiah Risland airlifted to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis and is currently listed in critical condition. The father of the three children is also at Children’s Hospital.
Clearwater County Sheriff Mike Erickson said all three children were wearing life jackets when the boat capsized. Their father, identified as Dan Risland of Leonard, Minn., told authorities that strong winds toppled over his small sailboat.
He tried to get the three children to shore after the boat capsized, but ran into difficulty because of winds and current that were both too strong. Risland then decided to leave the three children in the water with their life jackets on and go get help. He swam to shore and found a truck driver that called 911, authorities said.
“According to his statement, he lined the kids up in a row, and headed them for shore, got into a chain behind him he said, attempting to swim to shore but wasn’t gaining any distance with the boys, so he had to make a decision to leave them and get to shore quicker to get some help for them as fast as he could,” Erickson said.
“Dan did everything he could to save those boys, those boys were his world,” said Sara Staley, the boys’ aunt who says Dan Risland broke into a boathouse and in desperation took a boat to try and row out to the boys before rescuers arrived.
She is writing updates on Isaiah’s condition on her Facebook page.
The lake is about 20 miles from first responders, so it took emergency crews time to get to the scene.
By the time crews reached to his kids, hypothermia had already set in. Erickson said the first child was out of the water within 30 minutes of the call, but Risland said the kids had already been in the water 15 to 20 minutes. One child was pulled from the water 100 yards from shore and another was pulled 300 yards from shore. None of the children was breathing or had a pulse when they got out of the water. The lake is about 1.5 miles long and three-quarters of a mile wide.
After hours of CPR, the 2-year-old and 6-year-old boys were pronounced dead. Erickson said the kids were unconscious by the time rescue crews could get to them in the water and hypothermia had set in long before.
“It will be a miracle if the third child survives,” Erickson said.
Sheriff Erickson said he has met the boys previously and many deputies know the family involved, so news of the tragedy is hitting the small community hard.
“You don’t know it until you see the bodies, see their limp little bodies, it really hits you hard,” he said.
Clearwater Lake is partially located in both Clearwater and Beltrami Counties. The Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office will be providing counseling to the community starting Monday.
Sheriff Erickson said the tragedy brings a safety message.
“With the early spring, people assume because the air is warm the water is too. But the water temps are still very cold with the ice barely off, so hypothermia can set in within minutes. Especially with high winds,” Erickson said.
Aunt Sara Staley says her family finds some comfort in the depths of grief – their family’s strong faith even when tragedy strikes Easter weekend.
“Our hope is in Christ, the fact those boys are running and jumping and playing in heaven. They are in a much better place,” said Staley, who is asking for prayers for Isaiah. “It looks like there is minimal if any brain damage, every few hours looks like a small step of progess.”
The family has set up a fund for the Rislands.
Sara Staley (aunt) in care of “Benefit Risland Memorial Fund”