Seconds counted Friday when Lori Sweet, 51, and Timothy Bahma, 48, both of Brainerd, were thrown from a fishing boat into the frigid water of Rice Lake.
Sweet was reported at the helm of the boat before the mishap, which left them in the water without life vests and facing an out-of-control boat in what is known as the circle of death, where victims are often faced with propeller injuries. Witnesses reported the boat hitting and going over Sweet more than once. Both Sweet and Bahma were brought to shore for medical treatment with the help of bystanders, Rice Lake residents and emergency responders. Sweet was seriously injured and transported by North Memorial Ambulance to Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd and then airlifted by North Memorial Aircare to the Hennepin County Medical Center in Robbinsdale.
The first call to 911 was recorded at 6:09 p.m. The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office reported homeowners on Rice Lake were able to use a pontoon to reach the stricken boaters and were able to get Bahma out of the water about 6:15 p.m. Rescuers were unable to lift Sweet aboard the pontoon but were able to hang on to her and get her to shore where law enforcement and other bystanders pulled her out of the water about 6:21 p.m. Witnesses and the sheriff's office stated Sweet was within seconds of likely going under. Rescuers said neither Sweet nor Bahma were wearing a life jacket.
"The water in our area is extremely cold and without help these people would not have survived," said Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl. "We encourage everyone to wear personal floatation devices at all times. The life vest doesn't do any good in a compartment or when it is floating away."
Lakeside homeowners, who heard the screams and saw people in the water, as well as bystanders who saw the boat doing circles on the lake, responded to assist them.
Others witnessed the two people being thrown out of the boat and called 911.
The boat was reported to be under power and circling on Rice Lake with two people in the water nearby. Emergency personnel responded to the 900 block of Lakeview Lane in Brainerd.
Crow Wing County Sheriff's deputies along with officers from the Brainerd Police and Brainerd Fire departments assisted at the scene, as did North Memorial Ambulance.
After the two boaters were rescued, the 17-foot fishing out-of-control boat continued to rotate and slice through the water circling not far from the Mill Avenue bridge. Members of the sheriff's Boat and Water Division responded and worked with ropes to try to foul the prop and ultimately gained control of the fishing boat.
The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office Boat and Water Division is investigating the incident.