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Two Canoeists Still Missing in BWCAW

Lake Superior and inland lakes here in the Arrowhead Region are beautiful and amazing places to camp, hike, fish, and canoe, but they are also danger­ous, as a party of ca­noeists were remind­ed on May 18. That Saturday, a group of five people were in the Boundary Waters Ca­noe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), when four of their party went over Curtain Falls on the Minnesota-Ontario border, about 20 miles north of Ely. Erik Grams, 43, of Ham Lake, was unharmed, but Kyle Sellers, 47, of Ham Lake, was airlift­ed to a Duluth hospital with serious injuries, and two others, Jesse Haugen, 41, of Cam­bridge and 40-year-old Reis Grams of Lino Lakes, went missing and have yet to be found.

St. Louis Coun­ty Sheriff’s Office and Rescue Squad responded to the in­cident, and search ef­forts were continuing on Monday, May 20, amid “poor weath­er and difficult water conditions”, according to a report by MPR News. Searchers have been utilizing drones and remote-operated vehicles to aid them.

“High water, rapid current. 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,” St. Louis County Sheriff’s Of­fice Division Com­mander Nate Skelton said in an interview with MPR. Skelton shared about the party to which Haugen and Grams, the missing individuals, belong. “They’ve been in there before. They’re famil­iar with the area. 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 search is a “24-hour operation”. On May 23, Governor Tim Walz authorized the National Guard to assist in the search. Rising water levels and poor weather have continued to hinder the search efforts. A National Guard CH-47 Chinook helicopter transported equip­ment and a boat to the search scene on the 23rd, aiding the efforts of the search-and-rescue teams.

According to Nate Skelton, search teams are focusing on the base of Curtain Falls, where it flows into Iron Lake, and they plan to gradually move into searching Iron Lake. On May 21, Angie Grams, wife of missing canoeist Reis Grams, said in an interview with FOX 9 that she still believes Reis might be alive. “He would want every single person who has ever believed in God, just start pray­ing right now. And he knows that is the only way he is getting out of there.”

Haley Searls
Haley Searls
Hello! My name is Haley Searls. I’ve loved writing from an early age, though my nonfiction writing at five years old consisted mainly of weather and gardening reports. I still have some of those early articles: “It’s sunny.” “It’s still sunny.” “It’s raining.” I’m glad to say my writing has improved since then. I wrote a guest post for the Silver Bay Public Library blog, and was the writer/editor of the newsletter for my American Heritage Girls troop. I have been writing for the North Shore Journal since June 2022. Besides writing, I love reading, drawing, photography, music, and spending time with family and friends. Two books that have really influenced my writing are Reforming Journalism by Marvin Olasky and Writer to Writer by Bodie and Brock Thoene. As a journalist, I want to share positive community interactions and inspire people to make lasting connections. Article topics that interest me are ones which show community activities and involvement. Such articles include community events, youth accomplishments, library programming, small businesses, local history, local artists and authors, art programs, and cultural events such as theater and dance. If you have an article idea, email the North Shore Journal with my name in the subject line! I look forward to hearing from you!
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