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McFeely: In near-miracle, everybody walks away from Minnesota broadside boat crash

Rob Plath of Barnesville, Minn., spent most of his 34 years driving dirt bikes, demolition derby cars and stock cars for fun. He gave up those pursuits this summer in order to enjoy the safe serenity of a fishing boat.It's not working so well.

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Rob Plath of Barnesville, Minn., had his boat seriously damaged when it was hit by another boat on Little McDonald Lake on Wednesday, July 19, 2017. (Contributed photo)

Rob Plath of Barnesville, Minn., spent most of his 34 years driving dirt bikes, demolition derby cars and stock cars for fun. He gave up those pursuits this summer in order to enjoy the safe serenity of a fishing boat.

It's not working so well.

Plath and his fishing partner Casey Chouinard of Ulen, Minn., were trolling for walleyes on Little McDonald Lake near Perham, Minn., on Wednesday, July 19, when their boat was broadsided by another boat Plath estimates was going 35 mph. The second boat appears to have jumped Plath's boat, its spinning propeller damaging the top of Plath's motor, before splashing safely back into the water.

In what could be described as a near-miracle, everybody walked away. Plath says he has a sore left arm caused by his boat slamming into him after he'd jumped into the lake. He says Chouinard is "stiff and sore."

"I just feel so lucky," Plath said.

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The boat that struck Plath's was driven by 77-year-old Myron Enter of South Dakota, according to the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Department. Official information on the incident was lean Thursday afternoon because the water patrol officer who responded hadn't filed a report yet. Sheriff's department spokesman Lt. Keith Van Dyke said he's not sure if there will be any citations issued.

As you can imagine, Plath could recount the incident in vivid detail because he saw it all unfold. It happened in daylight, at about 8 p.m.

He and Chouinard were pulling crankbaits at 2.2 mph when Plath noticed a speed boat coming up on plane "two or three football fields away." He remarked to Chouinard that the boat was coming directly at them, but both anglers figured the driver would turn once he saw Plath's boat. That didn't happen.

As the boat zipped closer and didn't turn or slow down, Plath knew there was going to be a crash so he instinctively grabbed Chouinard and both jumped into the lake on the opposite side of impact.

"I just knew that if I stayed in my boat, I wasn't going to make it," Plath said. "When I jumped, I tried to get as much depth as possible so I could avoid the guy's propeller. When I came up, I had my left arm over my head for protection because I didn't know what was going to be up there. When I broke the surface, the first thing I saw was my trolling motor swinging at me, the prop spinning like crazy. My boat was spinning in the water and the back end swung around and slammed my forearm.

"My guess is that he jumped my boat and went six or eight feet in the air."

Plath's boat, a 1971 Lund with a 115 horsepower motor, sustained a massive dent on the left side near the windshield and damage to the motor cover. Plath believes Enter's boat was an 18-foot Lund with a 175 horsepower motor.

Plath said the first thing that came to mind after he gathered his senses was the boat crash on Big Cormorant Lake on July 4, 2012, when West Fargo resident Terry Erickson suffered a broken hip and leg when a boat slammed into his during a fireworks display. The boat that hit Erickson's left the scene and, along with its driver, has yet to be found.

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"We jumped in my boat and I said, 'Let's follow this guy so he doesn't get away.' But he wasn't going anywhere. We all went back to the landing and he was very apologetic. He admitted he just didn't see me," Plath said. "I admit I gave him a few choice words, but I actually kind of felt bad for him. I think he truly just didn't see me. I wish I knew what was going through his head that would cause that to happen."

Plath said it appeared Enter had three grandchildren in the front of the boat and two other adults near him.

Plath doesn't know what will become of the incident, but wants to get his boat replaced as quickly as possible. Fishing's been good, he said, and he doesn't want to miss out since he gave up his other hobbies.

He feels extremely fortunate to be alive and not seriously injured and hopes he can get the following message out to all boaters: "It's not only you on the lake. You have to watch out for yourself and everybody else who is out there. We don't live in a bubble. This is something I hope nobody else has to experience."

Because he walked away almost unscathed, Plath kept his sense of humor.

"I had my friends always asking me, 'Rob, why do you do so many dangerous things?' That's when I was driving dirt bike or cars," he said. "Now I can ask them, 'OK, so how the hell is trolling crankbaits dangerous?'"

Related Topics: BOATING
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