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Cloquet man shares story of river rescue

Rescue team members help Cloquet hunter Adam Myers into the ambulance after Myers capsized and fell into a very cold St. Louis river and then spent hours perched on a rock waiting to be rescued. Photo contributed by Dawn Rask 1 / 2
Cloquet Area Fire District personnel prepare to rescue hunter Adam Myers from a rock on the St. Louis River between Scanlon and Carlton Sunday, after his canoe capsized. Photo contributed by Ken Slatten/St. Louis County Rescue Squad 2 / 2

If he hadn’t purchased a dry box Saturday night, Cloquet’s Adam Myers said he probably wouldn’t have lived to tell the tale of capsizing his canoe in a frigid St. Louis River this weekend.

It took rescuers more than two hours to find and rescue Myers, 26, after he called 911 at 2:32 p.m. Sunday.

However, Myers had already been in the water for a long time by the time he made the emergency call.

“I fell in around 1 p.m.,” said Myers, who was wearing a life jacket. “I flipped over in rapids that had two- or three-foot waves and went under, panicked but then calmed down. I floated on my back through a canyon for awhile, where the water was deep and fast, before I got to a place [in the river] where there were rocks to get onto. My life jacket was the only reason I stayed afloat.”

A deer hunter, Myers had decided to load up his canoe and try to get to a more remote place to hunt. The river was higher and faster than he expected, however. When the canoe capsized, his gun and everything else fell out, along with Myers. He was alone in the canoe.

Myers said he found a rock big enough for him and his small canoe in the middle of the river, in front of another set of falls. At that point he realized he would not be able to get to shore.
“I knew I had to find my phone, and then it floated by me,” he said.

Cloquet Area Fire District Battalion Chief Steve Kolodge said dispatch gave the rescuers a location based on the caller’s cell phone location, but the exact location was unclear. When CAFD firefighters responded to the estimated location, it was too wet and muddy to get their rescue equipment in.

CAFD Captain Jeremy Hutchison continued walking into the river, explaining that he came out down river of Myers.

“I had to follow the river bank up to get to him,” he said, adding that he had to break a trail and climb up some rocks to get there. “But once we figured out where he was, the DNR officers knew of a path that led pretty close.”

While Hutchison hiked, Kolodge first called the Carlton Fire Department to use their nifty tracked all terrain vehicle (which didn’t work out) before getting two ATVs from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources so they could get the equipment to the river.

“Once [Hutchison] physically got eyes on him, that helped a lot,” Kolodge said.

It took time to get the rescue crew and equipment to the river. Once they were there, Rescue 1 CAFD crews donned “mustang suits” (mustard-yellow colored water suits that float and are suitable for cold or warm water rescues) and inflated the RDC “banana” rescue boat to reach Myers and bring back him to shore.

The Cloquet man was rescued from the river at 4:41 p.m., according to the Sheriff’s Office press release. He was dressed for hunting, however, and not for boating in cold water.

Myers said there were about 20 people on the shore and a lot more by the road. He was conscious for the rescue.

“From there we got him in a four-wheeler and transported him out to an ambulance,” Kolodge said, adding that the man was “very hypothermic” by that time. They packed him in heat packs and used warm intravenous fluids while still in the ambulance, and his condition improved on the way to St. Mary’s Essentia Hospital in Duluth, Kolodge said. Myers said he got out of the hospital later that night.

Additional assistance and resources were provided by the Minnesota DNR, Minnesota State Patrol, St. Louis County Rescue Squad, Minnesota Power, Carlton Fire and Ambulance and Life Link III Helicopter.

Minnesota Power shut down the dam for 20-25 minutes during the rescue to bring down the water level, Kolodge explained, before adding some cautionary advice.

“Don’t go out on the river when it’s cold,” he said. “The weather is great, but it’s November and the water is extremely cold, no matter how nice it is out. It’s not that different than falling through the ice.”

As for Myers, he wants to hunt again — he started hunting as a kid with his mother, Diane Putnam, who died in 2006 — as soon as he can afford another gun, since his is on the bottom of the river somewhere. And he likely won’t try to get there on the river next time, even though he did go back and get his canoe Monday … with a friend, this time.