MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — With over 160 square miles of water, Leech Lake is among Minnesota’s largest bodies of inland water.
Sudden winds added to the danger for canoeists Melanie Carlson and her 28-year old son.
“We were trying to make our way back and the waves were way bigger than they were before,” Carlson said.
The two struggled to keep a course near the western shoreline in the wind whipped waves.
“Suddenly, we went over and we were in the water,” Carlson said.
The popular Cass County lake is largely a haven for anglers, but Sheriff Tom Burch says kayaks and canoes are seen on occasion.
“Folks in canoes and kayaks keep in mind that in windy conditions it’s easy to be blown away from shore, and it’s extremely tough to go back against the wind,” Burch said.
From their resort Pine Point, Carlson and her son got pushed into open water. By 3 p.m., the Cass County Sheriff’s water patrol was called out to begin a search for the canoeists.
“This is it, this is how I’m going to die,” Carlson said.
By late afternoon, the Minnesota Air Rescue Team, which specializes in remote and technical rescues across the state, arrived to assist.
“We were hoping someone would rescue us, or see us, but nobody saw us,” Carlson said.
Parched and exhausted from trying to remain in the partially-submerged canoe, the mother and son drank lake water. Eventually, they made it to a remote northwest shore.
Fortunately, at around 7:15 p.m. on Monday evening, the MART helicopter team spotted them near Hardwood Point, about 10 miles from where they started their trip.
“Suddenly, I heard a helicopter and he gave us the thumbs up,” Carlson said. “I laid down in the grass and bawled. We were finally rescued.”
It was a moment of pure and grateful relief, with thanks to coordinated search teams, life jackets and simple human will.