BASSWOOD RIVER—An incredible response by area rescuers saved the life of a 15-year-old boy on Tuesday morning, after he was trapped under a log for more than six hours in heavy rapids in the …
BASSWOOD RIVER—An incredible response by area rescuers saved the life of a 15-year-old boy on Tuesday morning, after he was trapped under a log for more than six hours in heavy rapids in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
“This young man is very, very lucky to be alive,” said Kurt Erickson, who coordinates the St. Louis County Rescue Squad, which was integral in this latest rescue effort.
The young man, named Asher, was a member of a youth ministry group from Rochester. He had originally been part of a group of 13, but the group had split up after being ticketed the day before for exceeding the party size limit in the federal wilderness area.
Asher was traveling at the time in a group of five campers, who had hoped to avoid portaging by shooting Cable Rapids on the Basswood River. But the group underestimated the power of the rapids, and both canoes quickly capsized. One group managed to float to safety, but Asher’s ankle became wedged between one of the smashed canoes and a submerged log. The intense pressure of the water against the canoe made it impossible for the other campers in his group to free him.
An adult with the party, named Matt, was forced to hold Asher’s head up for hours to prevent him from slipping under the rapids.
From there, the group’s luck took a turn for the better. About two hours after the canoes capsized, at about1 p.m., two Canadian Ranger volunteers passed by and they contacted the Lake County Sheriff’s Office by radio to alert them to the situation. Lake County contacted the St. Louis County Rescue Squad, which mobilized the response.
The first rescuers, DNR conservation officers Sean Williams and Marty Stage, arrived at about 3 p.m. in a DNR boat. Morse Township rescuers, including Jim Blauch and James Devine, arrived by johnboat from LaTourell’s shortly after. Forest Service pilot Pat Loe flew two more Morse rescuers and a St. Louis County deputy in to the site in a Beaver.
Rescuers offered to relieve Matt, who had been in the water, holding up Asher’s head, for more than four hours at that point. “But Matt wouldn’t budge,” said Erickson, and he remained with Asher until he was eventually freed.
Initial attempts to free Asher were unsuccessful. Rescuers managed to get a rope tied under Asher’s armpits. They also attached a line to the broken canoe, and attempted to free it from shore, hoping it would release Asher. But they could barely budge the canoe and each attempt appeared to pull the young man further under the water.
Eventually, with technical help from Jon Olson, one of the rescue squads most accomplished members, the group rigged a pulley system with a 5:1 advantage. But even that was barely enough to do the job, and a 25,000-pound carabiner that Devine had attached to the canoe was bent from the pressure. But rescuers finally freed the canoe, at about 4:30 p.m., which allowed Asher to float free.
After nearly six hours in the water, the boy was hypothermic and only semi-conscious. His ankle was also severely injured from the pressure of the canoe, which largely cut off circulation. Rescuers immediately began warming him with hot packs and emergency blankets.
As rescuers were administering to Asher on shore, a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter, which had been dispatched from St. Paul, finally arrived on the scene and hovered in place while another rescuer descended by rope and brought Asher on board using a sling. From there, he was transferred to the waiting Beaver floating not far away, which flew him back to Ely.
According to Erickson, Asher was “in extreme peril,” the entire time and could have died from any of a number of potential mistakes or simply bad luck. He credited the success to a diverse group of mostly volunteers who constantly train and work together for these kinds of incidents.
Matt, who had held Asher’s head for hours, traveled out of the wilderness with the rescue crew and went immediately to the Ely Bloomenson Hospital to check on Asher’s condition. The rest of the party stayed overnight on Tuesday and came out the following day.
As of Wednesday, Asher remained hospitalized with crushing injuries to his leg and foot.