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Scouts 'very thankful' after Boundary Waters rescue by boat, plan and helicopter

ELY, Minn. — By boat, by floatplane and by helicopter, a multi-agency rescue effort descended on the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on Thursday afternoon after reports that a canoeing party had capsized in cool, blustery conditions.

By nightfall, all eight people in the group – three adults and five children, part of an Ohio Boy Scout troop – had been safely rescued from the shores of Basswood Lake, on the Canadian border northeast of Ely.

“We’re very thankful,” Kevin Dowling, general manager at the Boy Scouts of America’s Northern Tier High Adventure Base east of Ely, said on Friday morning. The base is where the scouts’ canoe trip originated. The group was on the last day of a five-day expedition.

The scouts, Troop 990 of West Chester, Ohio, were with adults out of the Northern Tier camp on Moose Lake, Lake County Sheriff Carey Johnson said.

“The whole operation with all of the agencies getting together doing a coordinated effort to get in there by boat and by air – we were all working really well together,” said Johnson said. “It all worked out well. There were no other injuries, everyone checked out OK for hypothermia.

“I had the outside temperature at 45 degrees when we arrived,” he said.

As many as three dozen rescuers converged for the operation that began at 4 p.m., when the Ontario Provincial Police got the first radio call from scouts at 4 p.m. They quickly referred it to Lake County for its proximity advantage, and Johnson’s office went about both responding and coordinating the recovery effort, which featured a daring rope rescue.

The Minnesota Air Rescue Team, a joint effort of the State Patrol and the St. Paul Fire Department, gave a joint press conference in St. Paul, Friday, explaining their efforts from the helicopter to deliver to safety the two adults who were marooned on a Canadian peninsula.

Johnson said the scout group got caught in a “big water, small watercraft” situation on a day that saw heavy gusts of wind and at times driving rain that wet even the two adults who didn’t go into the water.

Anthony Bermel, a conservation officer with the Minnesota DNR, was one of the first rescuers to reach a group of six found on shore in another Canadian portion of the lake. Bermel said two canoes capsized and the group drifted to the shore of Washington Island.

Bermel said the capsized group looked OK, and even had a tent set up. They were prepared with survival gear and all had been wearing life jackets

“They still looked wet,” Bermel said of the group that had capsized. “They were happy to see us.”

Because of winds and rough water, neither a floatplane nor rescue boats could get to the rocky shoreline of the peninsula where the other two adults had come ashore. So a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter dispatched from St. Paul was used to extract the men from the woods.

The two men were plucked from the wooded point, one at a time, accompanied by a rescuer at the end of a 100-foot rope dangling from the helicopter. The “short-haul” rescue brought them about a quarter-mile to the island where the other canoeists and the floatplane were located.

All of the canoeists were rescued by 8:30 p.m.