Couple rescued in swamp

Blackhawk helicopter deployed in successful BWCAW search

by Tom Coombe -

With the help of a Blackhawk helicopter, authorities rescued a Twin Cites couple that had been reported missing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
A search that was launched earlier in the week ended successfully early in the morning of June 2, when authorities located the canoeists, who had been lost in a swamp near Nina Moose River and Oyster Lake.
Located were Charles Kelly, 66, of Brooklyn Park, and Pamela Scaia, 65, of New Hope. They suffered no major medical issue after being lost for seven days. They were taken to Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital, as a precaution.
Sheriff’s officials said the couple used a flashlight to alert authorities, who needed permission from Gov. Mark Dayton to use the helicopter.
Ely residents likely heard a loud helicopter landing at the hospital around 2 a.m. on June 2.
The Rescue Squad’s Kurt Erickson offered details of the search.
“To complicate matters at the outset there was a canoe, stuck in a set of rapids on the Moose River that closely match the description of our missing parties,” said Erickson. “Investigation ruled that canoe out.
Erickson said that Kelly sent a text message May 26 to a friend in the Twin Citis indicating the couple had problems and that the friend should notify authorities.
The friend first thought it was a joke and waited until May 28 to notify the U.S. Forest Service.
Authorities then opted to wait because the party was not due out until the followign day.
“No further reports came about the matter and no further actions were taken until the daughter of the woman in the group called to report her mother and friends missing,” said Erickson. “ This was the call on Thursday (June 1) that caused a deputy to request the Rescue Squad be notified.”
As units began arriving, teams were deployed into the wilderness.
Campsites were checked and campers were spoken to, and there was no sign of the missing couple.
According to Erickson, the text that had been sent had stated the group thought they were in the Ramshead - Agness area. By 6 p.m. on June 1, teams were called back to staging knowing that they would be traveling in the dark by the time they returned.
Contact was made with the State Patrol for a fixed wing plane to be detailed to the call and to request a Army National Guard Blackhawk helicopter be assigned.
“The Blackhawk assignment is an interesting process that requires the State Duty Office be contacted, Homeland Security be involved and ultimately the governor has to approve the use of state military asset for deployment,” said Erickson. “ With all of that done the Blackhawk was dispatched.
The county rescue squad formulated a search area felt highly likely to contain the couple. It was a large swamp that runs southwest from Oyster Lake and near the Ramshead Agnes area.
“ There is a drainage coming from that swamp that could confuse someone. DNR had paddled that drainage as far as possible,” said Erickson. “But, that was at current water levels. The week before there had been significant rains that had water levels much higher. GPS coordinates were provided to they air assets for our search area.
“The State Patrol in flying the area spotted a light and then spotted a red and white light in the middle of this hugh swampy hole. They were then able to ID to human forms and felt the lights were being waved at them. With that the Army National Guard, Blackhawk, was called in. The Blackhawk is rescue capable in night operations and the helicopter lowered it’s rescue basket and was able to retrieve the victims.”
The rescue occurred between 1 and 1:30 a.m.
The Blackhawk then flew the victims directly to Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital.
“ Keep in mind these folks entered that drainage at very high water, got caught in there and the water dropped really causing them trouble,” said Erickson. “They had been in that swamp for seven days.”