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Rescue of kayaker reflects dangerous river conditions in central Minnesota

The most recent rescue took place Tuesday night in Isanti County, where a kayaker overturned on the swollen Rum River and could not escape the current.

ISANTI COUNTY, Minn. — Editor's note: The video above first aired on May 12, 2022. 

Authorities in Isanti County say a kayaker is fortunate to be alive after rescuers plucked the paddler and a Good Samaritan neighbor from the icy waters of the Rum River Tuesday night. 

Isanti Fire and Rescue personnel were dispatched to a home on the river in Athens Township around 9 p.m. on reports of a possible drowning. They learned that a resident of the home had overturned in his kayak, was caught in the current of the flooded river and could not make it back to shore. 

As Isanti Co. sheriff's deputies and Isanti police officers arrived, two first responders scrambled to put on cold water rescue suits, entered the river and were able to reach the victim who was struggling to stay above water. Those responders and crews on shore used a lifeline to pull him to safety. 

KARE 11 spoke with the wife of the victim, who said her husband jumped in a kayak to retrieve a paddle she had left in their yard that was now partially under water, and once out on the water decided to check out nearby flooding. He apparently got caught up in the fast-moving current, was swept into a grove of trees and overturned, tossing him into the frigid waters of the Rum River. 

When he didn't return home, the woman says she shouted to see if her husband was alright, and the man yelled back that he was drowning. At that point a neighbor heard what was happening, ran over and then swam out into the river where the victim was trying to keep his head above water. 

The woman told KARE that neighbor stayed in the icy water for more than an hour keeping her husband afloat. When authorities arrived the neighbor was able to make his way to safety, while first responders had to rescue the overturned kayaker. He was transported to a Twin Cities hospital and is being monitored for potential water in his lungs. 

"A great ending to what had potential to be a much worse outcome," reads a statement from the Isanti County Sheriff's Office. "Also, a reminder to just how dangerous flood waters can be."

The Stearns County Sheriff's Office shared a similar story from over the weekend, where a couple kayaking the Sauk River Sunday overturned in a grove of trees and was holding on to avoid getting swept away by the rushing water. 

Stearns County deputies, St. Joseph police officers and fire rescue personnel from Waite Park and Sauk Rapids responded, and an airboat was launched to pull 49-year-old Christopher McDonald and his wife Stacey from the icy water. The couple was treated on scene by a Mayo ambulance crew and then transported themselves to St. Cloud Hospital to get checked out. 

Waite Park Fire Chief Jim Aleshire says the air boat crew made two more trips, to extract some of his firefighters from the rushing river and recover the capsized kayaks. 

Aleshire says rescue efforts were challenging due to the high water level on the Sauk River and the extreme current situation due to recent storms.


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