Boy Scout group from Ohio rescued from BWCAW

Ely, Minn. — A Boy Scout group of eight from Ohio was rescued and safe after two of its three canoes capsized on windswept Basswood Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on June 12.

The group of eight, including three adults and five teens ages 15 to 17, were travelling along the Canadian border when wind and waves picked up, said Anthony Bermel, a Minnesota DNR conservation officer who assisted in the rescue.

Bermel and CO Marty Stage were in one of several rescue boats that responded, having launched from the entry point on Moose Lake.

“The winds came up pretty strong pretty quick,” Bermel said. “Basswood is a pretty big body of water. When we got out there, there were rough conditions. There were pretty big whitecaps.”

Justin Mayne, captain with the Lake County Rescue Squad, said the winds picked up to 25 to 30 miles per hour in some areas, with some gusts reaching 40.

Mayne said Lake County officials received word the canoes had capsized at about 4:20 p.m.

Somebody in the canoe party connected to a call center in Thunder Bay, said Constable Anne McKoy, of the Ontario Provincial Police, and that call was routed to the Lake County sheriff.

“Communication is never easy up there,” Bermel said.

Bermel said, in total, five in the group wound up in the water. One of the canoes had made it safely to Canadian Point by the time a U.S. Forest Service seaplane flew overhead.

But it would take longer for a fleet of rescue boats to arrive on the scene, since the boats had to connect to Basswood Lake via Prairie Portage, where a contractor pulls boats over the U.S. side of the portage with a truck and trailer.

The rescue boats were slowed by the conditions, even as they were able to use more powerful outboards since they were responding to an emergency. Otherwise, motorized travel on Basswood Lake is limited to 25-horsepower outboards.

Lake County Sherriff Cary Johnson said most of the rescue boats were at least 18 feet long and had 40- or 50-horsepower outboards.

“We tried to drop off a smaller boat but we realized it was too small for the conditions,” Johnson said.

The plane pilot spotted the other five on land just north of Washington Island. Six of the eight were brought to safety on the float plane, while two of the adults were brought back by boat, Bermel said.

“They were in reasonably good condition,” Bermel said. “There were a couple of youths that were a little bit shook up. We got them in a boat and the Forest Service plane came back and we shuttled them to calmer water.”

Johnson said one of the victims had been in the water for 90 minutes.

Despite a late spring, which often can make water extremely cold even in June, Bermel said none of the victims were battling hypothermia.

“They were wet and cold, but it wasn’t life-threatening at that point,” Bermel said.

Johnson noted that everyone in the party was wearing a life jacket.

“Life jackets were huge here,” he said. “If they didn’t have them on, it would have been a totally different outcome. They don’t do you any good if they are floating away. It’s best to avoid weather conditions like that, but sometimes people are good in a canoe and the wind and weather is still going to overtake it.”

Everyone was brought back safely to Moose Lake by 7 p.m., according to State Patrol Lt. Matt Nelson, of the Minnesota Air Rescue Team.

“We are thankful for all of the skill and dedication of all of the rescuers,” said Kevin Dowling, manager of Northern Tier Adventure Program, the Ely-based Boy Scout program from which the canoe party was based.

The incident ended their multi-day trip a day early, said Dowling, who noted that one staff member from Northern Tier was among the eight in the party.

“We have a plan for emergencies,” Dowling said. “We worked that plan, and the plan worked.”

Johnson said the rescue effort included several boats from the  St. Louis County Sheriff’s Department’s rescue team, Lake County Rescue Squad, the Minnesota DNR, a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter, and the Forest Service plane.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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