A group of duck hunters have re-lived the dangers they faced when they were caught on a stormy lake in northern Minnesota earlier this month.
Alec Stark, 24, of Little Falls, Raymond Rohl, 22, of Pillager, Cody Lisson, 21, of Long Prairie, and Brooke Waldorf, 23, of Osakis, had to swim to shore after their boat was overwhelmed by waves on North Long Lake near brainerd on Saturday, Oct. 12.
They've told their story to the Minnesota DNR, saying that it was only because of their life jackets that they escaped with only symptoms of hypothermia to show for it.
Temperatures had plunged as low as 35 degrees and a southwest wind started howling as the day progressed, creating an even lower wind chill and caused waves to whip up on the lake.
The group hadn't understood the extent to which conditions had deteriorated as their duck blind was located out of the wind.
But as they started back towards the access, they encountered a 24 mph gale on the lake, and even though they stayed closed to the shore in their 16-foot boat, it was eventually overcome by waves.
They threw their duck decoys overboard, planning to use them as flotation devices, and then jumped in the water to swim for shore.
But it was the life jackets they were wearing that ultimately saved them as they navigated the cold lake, with Stark saying he flipped onto his back and swam until the water was shallow enough to stand.
He then called 911, prompting a rescue response, with the four taken by ambulance for hypothermia treatment.
"Without the life jackets, we wouldn’t have been able to swim back," Stark said, per the DNR. "And had we not already been wearing them, there wouldn’t have been time to put them on."
"The shock of the cold water – you can’t even think. You’re just trying to breathe."
Boating deaths on Minnesota lakes are down this year, with only nine fatalities recorded so far in 2019, the lowest since 2010.
"This story easily could have had a different and tragic ending," said DNR conservation officer Eric Sullivan. "Their preparation on the front end likely saved their lives. They wore their life jackets and had a safety plan to deal with the extreme conditions. And when it became necessary to put their plan into action, they executed it by leaving most of their equipment behind and using their duck decoys for additional flotation.”"
What to do in cold water
The shock of entering cold water can lead to drowning within 2-3 minutes unless a person is wearing a life jacket, and can stop someone's ability to swim within 30 minutes of floating.
The DNR advises someone wearing a life jacket to spend the first minute in the water getting their breathing under control, before using the next 10 minutes to make a plan, locate other party members, rescue yourself, practice emergency signaling.
The following hour should be focused on slowing heat loss. If you're not near the shore, you should stick with your boat, as it should still float even if capsized and is easier for rescuers to locate.
Life jacket wearers should float on their backs with their head and feet out of the water.