BASSWOOD LAKE— A 17-year-old male is back on U.S. soil after he walked away from an Outward Bound group on the U.S. side of Basswood Lake on July 4 and spent more than two days in the wilderness …
BASSWOOD LAKE— A 17-year-old male is back on U.S. soil after he walked away from an Outward Bound group on the U.S. side of Basswood Lake on July 4 and spent more than two days in the wilderness without a canoe or tent before being apprehended in the Quetico by Canadian authorities.
The young man, whose name has been withheld as a juvenile, walked away from the group’s camp in the early morning hours. Group leaders said there was no indication that the young man was in distress or was upset when he had gone to his tent shortly before midnight on July 3.
The Outward Bound group, with help from other Outward Bound staff and students in the vicinity, spent about six hours in a fruitless search of the area before alerting authorities to the young man’s disappearance. The call initiated a substantial manhunt that ultimately involved the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, the St. Louis County Rescue Squad, the Custom and Border Patrol, the U.S. Forest Service, the Minnesota State Patrol, and the Ontario Provincial Police along with other Canadian authorities. Just accessing the site was difficult, since the campsite was located about thirty miles by water from the nearest road access.
Based on a comment from the young man to another member of the group, the searchers initially focused their search efforts to the west but found no trace of the missing youth.
By the second day of the search, rescuers brought in more resources, including helicopters and planes, to expand the search area, establishing a number of grids in likely travel directions.
On July 5, another member of the Outward Bound group revealed that the young man might be trying to make his way to Kett Lake, located north of Basswood in Quetico Provincial Park. According to the fellow camper, the young man had indicated his intent to leave the camp at about 3 a.m., cross the Basswood River, and make his way on foot. He brought some basic supplies, including a life vest, maps and a compass, as well as the group’s supply of iodine for treating drinking water.
The revelation drastically changed the direction of the search effort. Some of the rescuers did receive clearance to enter Canada to pursue the search, but soon opted to discontinue their efforts and handed off the search to Canadian authorities. By this time, according to Kurt Erickson, with the St. Louis County Rescue Squad, searchers had determined that the young man had left the group voluntarily and could well be hiding from searchers, making it virtually impossible to locate him in the vast, thickly-forested wilderness. At the same time, cell service and radio communications had become increasingly difficult, compoundinglogistical problems for the searchers.
It was the Ontario Provincial Police who eventually located the young man, reportedly using infrared sensors from aircraft to search the vast area of forest. In the end, the young man never made it to Kett Lake, but was located on a small island in Basswood Lake, where his heat signature caught the attention of provincial authorities who were searching at the time. Given the size of the island, the Ontario searchers discounted the likelihood that the heat signature was from a bear or other large wild animal. With no tent or canoe visible, the authorities reportedly landed nearby and called the young man’s name using a megaphone, which prompted him to appear out of the brush.
The young man was then apprehended and taken to Fort Frances, where he was handed over to his parents at the border sometime later. No word was available as of press time as to whether the young man will face charges in Canada for his illegal border crossing.
Outward Bound issued a statement of thanks following the rescue of the young man.
“We are extremely grateful to the Ontario Provincial Police for their extraordinary efforts in locating and returning a student who was missing for more than two days,” stated Jack Lee, executive director at the Voyageurs Outward Bound School. “His family, and our entire staff and team are thrilled and relieved. I would also like to thank the St. Louis County Search and Rescue Team, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Lake County Search and Rescue, the U.S. Border Patrol, Voyageur Outward Bound staff members and many capable volunteers who worked so hard to bring this situation to a close.”
Erickson, from the rescue squad, said the Outward Bound staff proved to be highly professional and resourceful in the search effort. “They were great to work with,” he said.