MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Eight people are safe after two canoes overturned Thursday in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The three adults and five children were part of a Boy Scout troop canoeing on the choppy waters of Basswood Lake near Ely.
High winds, rain and choppy waters played a role in the accident. When the canoes flipped, two adults and one child made it to shore and called for help.
It took the Minnesota Air Rescue Team two hours to get there and less than 30 minutes to save two lives.
By the time the helicopter got in place, the U.S. Forest Service had an aircraft that lands on water (known as a beaver) near the island where the call for help came from.
“They had rescued several individuals already, but they could not get to the shoreline where the two remaining survivors were,” said pilot Dave Willar, with the State Patrol.
He said the waves were too high for the beaver to get close, so a rescue via helicopter was the only option.
“Luckily the two people that were on the shoreline had a strobe light,” Willar said, “and through the trees, we were able to see the strobe, and that is how we zeroed in on their location.”
The $7 strobe light helped guide the two rescuers through a small opening in the trees.
Crew Chief Cpt. Allen Gabriel took out his phone and recorded the rescue.
“We always like to have documentation of training and incidents, because it helps you to see what you did wrong, so you can learn from it and see what you did right,” he said.
Gabriel added that this rescue unfolded well — exactly how MART trained.
One rescuer is left on the ground with one survivor while the other survivor is placed in an air rescue vest and pulled off the island and onto a safe area about a quarter mile away.
“It’s called short hauling,” Gabrie said. “And we used a 100-foot rope that’s suspended below the aircraft.”
The MART team repeated that process, and in less than 30 minutes, all eight canoeists were accounted for.
Four children and one adult were in the water for about 90 minutes before they were rescued.
All were treated and released. Some of them had mild cases of hypothermia.
Everyone in the canoes had life jackets. If not, there would have been a different outcome.
Video: Boundary Waters Canoe Rescue