Two workers at a local lodge say they will never forget the night of June 4 when they helped to save the life of one man, before stumbling onto the body of a second man.
Drake Guse and Kelly Chernosky say they were working at North Star Lodge on Clay Lake, up Highway 609 North of Quibell and Vermilion Bay, when the owner of the lodge, Stan Guse, was contacted by members of the OPP.
Police had only recently received a report of a capsized boat on Clay Lake, shortly after 5 p.m. Their information indicated that two men had been fishing near rapids when their boat capsized.
“We were working. My dad came to me and said 911 called,” said Drake. “The cops were having issues trying to find where these guys were. They were quite away out, and they figured we were really close. So, we went from there.”
Guse and Chernosky hopped in a nearby boat and drove 10 miles up the river, while Stan met them at a nearby boat launch. That’s when the two lodge workers found one man clinging to the underside of his boat in the middle of the river.
“We were driving up and we came across the survivor, just hanging on to the boat. So, we pulled up and rescued him,” said Kelly. “We drove him up the rapids to Stan who put him in the truck to warm him up, and waited for the OPP to come down.”
The two men say the Dryden OPP was able to make it on scene between 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. and they immediately began tending to the survivor, while Guse and Chernosky helped to put the OPP’s boat in the water.
“The OPP said he wouldn’t have made it if we hadn’t of drove up,” adds the two men. “He was on the verge of hypothermia. He could barely talk. He was shaking really bad. We had to roll him into the boat basically. He couldn’t move well.”
Shortly afterwards, the OPP and the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre began a helicopter search for the second angler who had been thrown from the boat as it capsized.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before Chernosky and Guse located 71-year-old David Nitzel of Rhineland, Wisconsin in the water, before helping officers retrieve his body from Clay Lake.
“We found the fellow that didn’t survive," adds Kelly. "We found him on our way back out after dropping off the survivor. We were going to lead police down the rapids, but we happened to find the body about 50 yards from where he went in the water. We assisted with getting him out of the water, and headed back down to the lodge after that.”
Chernosky and Guse note the two anglers were not staying at North Star Lodge and were staying at a lodge near Quibell, but North Star did have a special visitor the following day.
“The fellow that survived...he came down and thanked us the next day. We then went out and recovered his boat and motor for him,” adds Guse. “He was very thankful. He’s going to bring his wife up in a couple of weeks. She wants to meet us. It’s a happy and sad story."
After the harrowing weekend rescue, Guse and Chernosky are reminding anglers and boaters across the region to always wear their life jackets or personal flotation devices, to avoid any further tragedies on local lakes.
“Wear your life jacket. If people wear their life jackets, this happens almost never,” they add.
The OPP says the vast majority of victims killed in boating accidents each year were not wearing a life-jacket or PFD, and capsized vessels and falling over the top of the boat are the top two contributing factors in boating deaths every year.
The North Star Lodge is the only lodge on Clay Lake, has been operating for over 60 years and has been owned by the Guse family since 1993. It’s located about 20 miles north of Vermilion Bay at the end of Highway 609.