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DNR and St. Louis County rescue personnel save paddler’s life in BWCA (published October 19, 2020)

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Sean Williams and members of the volunteer St. Louis County Rescue Squad on Saturday night rescued a man experiencing severe hypothermia in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA). The man was at a campsite on Nina Moose Lake, which is about 20 miles north of Ely.

The man sent an emergency signal just before 5 p.m. Saturday. Rescue personnel, who were in a square-stern canoe with an outboard motor, arrived at Nina Moose Lake at about 8 p.m.

“It was as dark as I’ve ever seen it out there,” Williams said. “You couldn’t see anything. It was snowing heavily, fog was moving in, and there was ice on the lake. We had to break through ice to get to the middle of the lake, and when we made it to the middle it was so dark we had to use a GPS to find the shore and his campsite.”

When rescuers arrived at his campsite, a rescue squad member applied heat pads to the man’s core to begin warming him. Rescuers got him into warmer gear and built a fire, which he sat near for about 90 minutes while wrapped in a wool blanket. When the man was sufficiently warm, rescue personnel loaded him into the boat and headed back to their entry point. Other members of the rescue squad met them at the final portage and helped get the man out of the wilderness and to medical attention.

The man’s decision to rent emergency communications equipment likely saved his life.

“Had we not gotten there when we did, I don’t know that he would have made it through the night,” Williams said. “Luckily he had the communications equipment and wasn’t afraid to use it once he knew he was in trouble.”

In addition to carrying a communications device, anyone who ventures into the BWCA should be prepared for all weather conditions and let other people know of their travel plans.