3 teens rescued after canoe swept into rocks above waterfall

One boy was trapped under the boat for hours and suffered extreme hypothermia and a leg injury

By Steve Karnowski
The Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Three teenagers from a church group were rescued from rushing water after they lost control of their canoe in rapids at the top of a waterfall on the U.S.-Canada border in northern Minnesota, with one of them becoming trapped by the damaged boat for several hours, authorities said Wednesday.

The 15-year-old boy was nearly unconscious during the last half-hour of the rescue in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the Lake County Sheriff's Office said in a statement. He had extreme hypothermia and a leg injury.

The sheriff's department said it received a call around 1 p.m. Tuesday about the accident, which happened between 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. on the Upper Basswood Falls, which have a drop of 25 to 30 feet. The damaged canoe was pinned against the rocks by the force of the rushing water, trapping the 15-year-old, the statement said.

Rescuers from the Lake and St. Louis County sheriff's departments reached the group around 3 p.m. and freed the trapped youth about 5:15 p.m. The other two boys in the canoe were OK, Sheriff Casey Johnson said. A State Patrol helicopter collected the parties and took them to a U.S. Forest Service seaplane that flew them to Ely, where the injured youth was taken by ambulance to a hospital. Ely is about 100 miles north of Duluth.

The sheriff said he would not release the teenagers' names because they're all juveniles, but they were part of a Rochester church group. Johnson said the 15-year-old remained hospitalized around midday Wednesday because of the crush injuries to his leg. He said hospital officials were hopeful he could be released later Wednesday.

Officials at Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital did not immediately return a call seeking information on his condition.

The initial call to the sheriff's department came from the Charles Sommers Canoe Base near Ely, which is run by the Boy Scouts of America. Its general manager, John Van Dreese, said the teens were not part of a Scout group, but sought help from staffers working on a portage trail in the area. He said the crew radioed back to the base for a 911 call. He said he didn't have details on what happened because the crew isn't due back for another week.

The Upper Basswood Falls can be treacherous, said Wade Kingsporn, an outfitter at Piragis Northwoods Company, who is familiar with the area. He said they include several sets of falls and that the current is strong. Canoeists normally take a mile-long portage around the upper and lower falls, he said.

The falls have been the scene of at least one fatal accident. Dick Barber, 78, of Minnetonka, died in 2013 when his canoe went over them.

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