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Search continues for missing BWCA canoeists
U.S. Forest Service
Outdoor News

Search continues for missing BWCA canoeists

The search continues for two missing canoeists in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness following an incident that occurred at Curtain Falls along the Minnesota and Canada border on the evening of May 18. 

At approximately 7:21 p.m. on Saturday, May 18, the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office received a call that a party of four individuals in two canoes had gone over Curtain Falls, with one party badly injured and two individuals missing. 

The two missing canoeists have been identified as Jesse Melvin Haugen, 41, of Cambridge, Minn., and Reis Melvin Grams, 40 of Lino Lakes, Minn.

The St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office, North Air Care, Virginia Fire Department, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Minnesota Air Rescue Team, and the St. Louis County Rescue Squad responded to the call. At approximately, 12:30 a.m. on May 18, the DNR helicopter extracted the uninjured party, identified as Erik Michael Grams, 43, of Ham Lake, Minn., and the injured individual, Kyle Thomas Sellers, 47, of Ham Lake. Sellers was flown to Essentia Duluth with serious but not life-threatening injuries. 

An additional individual involved in the party, Jared Jay Johse, 33, of Cambridge, Minn., was also evacuated from the scene.

The St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office said the extent of injuries to the rescued parties are unknown at this time.

Crews continued search efforts throughout the weekend and into Tuesday.

“We are still in 24-hour operation,” St. Louis County Rescue Squad said in a May 20 Facebook post. 

The remote location of Curtain Falls, between Crooked Lake and Iron Lake, has proved challenging for the St. Louis County Rescue Squad, which is leading the search efforts. “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,” the St. Louis County Rescue Squad stated on May 20. 

Search and rescue teams have maintained a constant presence at the scene, extending their efforts overnight and taking advantage of running ‘sorties’ at first light. “An Advanced Base Camp is staffed all night to ‘keep an ear on’ those in the field,” the St. Louis County Rescue Squad said. 

With the ongoing search efforts, the Superior National Forest issued an Emergency Closure Order for Iron Lake on Sunday, May 19. The restrictions are in effect from Monday, May 20, to Wednesday, May 22, at 12:01 a.m. The order states all trails, campsites, portages, rivers, and lakes surrounding Iron Lake, including the LaCroix-Bottle portage, LaCroix-Iron portage, and Crooked Lake west of Sunday Bay, are closed. These restrictions will remain in effect for as long as posted and until termination on Wednesday, May 22.