A St. Paul man drowned Sunday in the St. Croix River, leading officials to urge caution when swimming in the fast-moving river.
Pha Yang, 38, drowned after he jumped off a pontoon boat to go swimming on the Wisconsin side of the river. Yang and three friends had rented the boat in Stillwater on Sunday afternoon.
The boat was about 100 yards north of the Stillwater Lift Bridge when Yang "decided that he was hot and wanted to go for a swim," said St. Croix County sheriff Dennis Hillstead. Yang was an experienced swimmer, according to his fellow boaters.
Yang's friends turned off the boat's motor while he dove into the water, but the boat continued to drift northward. Yang swam after the boat, but appeared to be struggling in the water.
His friends threw out the anchor, in the hope that Yang could grab onto it, but he went under the water before the anchor reached him.
One of the boaters jumped off the boat and attempted to locate Yang, but was unsuccessful.
The Washington County and St. Croix County sheriff's patrol responded to the scene. Water patrols from both counties conducted a search of the area. Yang's body was discovered using sonar technology, in the same area where he had been swimming.
Authorities have not yet determined whether Yang was intoxicated.
Hillstead said none of the boaters were familiar with the St. Croix River, and had little information about boat operations or safety precautions. Although life vests were stored on the pontoon, none of the boaters were wearing them at the time of the incident.
Officials say the St. Croix River has strong undercurrents and undertows, and urged boaters to use caution when navigating the river.
"It's an unfortunate incident that occurred, but as always, whenever something like this happens, we hope that it makes everyone else more aware of what they're doing and where they're doing it," Hillstead said.
Hillstead said the incident marks the first accidental drowning on the St. Croix County portion of the river this year.