Minnesota News

Search continues for 2 people missing after canoes went over waterfall in Boundary Waters

Fire Lake
A view of Fire Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in July 2019.
Kirsti Marohn | MPR News

Search efforts continued Monday amid poor weather and difficult water conditions for two people who went missing over the weekend after their canoes went over a waterfall in northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office identified the two missing people as 41-year-old Jesse Melvin Haugen of Cambridge and 40-year-old Reis Melvin Grams of Lino Lakes.

They went missing Saturday after their canoes went over Curtain Falls on the Minnesota-Ontario border, about 20 miles north of Ely.

Searchers from the sheriff’s office and the St. Louis County Rescue Squad have been using drones and remote-operated vehicles in challenging conditions.

A waterfall
Curtain Falls in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness along the Minnesota-Ontario border. Two canoeists were missing after two canoes went over the falls on Saturday.
Rescue Squad Team Leader Ben Hartley via St Louis County Rescue Squad Facebook

“High water, rapid current,” sheriff’s office Division Commander Nate Skelton said of what search crews have encountered. “The falls progress down about 30 feet … It’s not a straight drop but they move down between Crooked Lake and Iron Lake and they trickle down with a lot of fast-moving water.”

There also was rain in the area overnight Sunday into Monday.

The two people missing were among a group of five on a trip in the BWCAW. A 47-year-old man from Ham Lake was seriously injured when the canoes went over the falls, and was airlifted to a hospital in Duluth.

Skelton said the a group was fishing at Curtain Falls on Saturday evening.

“They’ve been in there before. They’re familiar with the area,” he said. “Four of them were basically anchored at the top of the falls fishing, which they’ve done in the past, and it sounds like one of them may have had an issue and the other one went to try to give some assistance and both canoes and four people went over the falls.”

The Superior National Forest issued an emergency closure order until Wednesday for a section of the wilderness in the area where the search is underway. It includes Iron Lake and a portion of Crooked Lake.

The St. Louis County Rescue Squad posted Sunday night that the search effort was a “24-hour operation.”

“Members ran search sorties this evening until it was too dark to see, and are sleeping on the ground tonight in order to be up to run more sorties at first light,” rescue squad officials wrote in a post on Facebook.

“An Advanced Base Camp is staffed all night to ‘keep an ear on’ those in the field. Curtain Falls is extremely difficult to access, and we are depending heavily on our aviation partners to transport equipment, supplies and personnel in and out of the backcountry.”

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