ELY, Monn. - A pair of stranded canoeists were rescued from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness early Friday after using a flashlight to signal the crew of a plane that was searching for them.
Charles Kelly, 66, of Brooklyn Park, Minn., and Pamela Scaia, 65, of New Hope, Minn., were located at about 1 a.m. near Oyster Lake northwest of Ely by the crew of a fixed-wing aircraft from the Minnesota State Patrol, the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office reported in a news release. The lost duo was then retrieved by a Black Hawk helicopter crew from the Minnesota Air National Guard.
"It was a phenomenal search - one of the best I've been on," said Rick Slatten, captain of the St. Louis County Rescue Squad. "They were in life-threatening conditions, running out of food."
Kelly and Scaia were uninjured but taken to Ely Bloomenson Community Hospital as a precautionary measure, the Sheriff's Office reported. They were the only two people in the group; authorities initially thought three people were missing. But a third party started late and left early due to illness, Slatten said. Pings to his cellphone were being received from Madison, Wis.
Kelly and Scaia had been expected out of the wilderness by Monday, according to their float plan itinerary filed with the U.S. Forest Service. But canoeists can finish early or late without that itinerary being flagged. The search began shortly after Kelly's neighbor wondered where he was and contacted authorities. Simultaneously, Scaia missed a shift for work and her daughter began to worry, Slatten explained.
The pair appeared to have gotten lost on their way out, he said, taking a wrong turn while navigating a tributary that feeds Oyster Lake. Slatten said that the tributary is one of the many streams and rivers that connect the lakes in the area and can take away the need for canoeists to portage from one waterway to the next. The tributary they were on ran out of navigable water and the pair realized they were lost.
"In that part of the Boundary Waters you can make a lot of progress by paddling the streams and rivers," he said. "They'd navigated into a stream and thought it was part of their route."
The search was launched Thursday and initially focused on the Moose River entry point along the Echo Trail northwest of Ely, where the canoeists were reported to have entered the wilderness. Oyster Lake is about 10 miles north of that access point.
The search covered air, land and water and, in addition to the Rescue Squad, State Patrol and National Guard, also included personnel from the U.S. Forest Service and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton directed the National Guard to assist with the search efforts. Dayton issued an emergency executive order on Friday, allowing the National Guard "to be properly reimbursed for their assistance in the successful search and rescue" from the state's general fund.