(January 16, 2009)
While Minnesotans hunkered down Monday evening (Jan. 12) for the coldest night of the season thus far, a Minnesota conservation officer braved dangerous temperatures, wind chills and freezing water to rescue a teenage boy from almost certain death.
Adam Bolkert, 19, of Winona was taking a shortcut home from Riverway Learning Community School when he fell through the ice of the Mississippi River backwaters near Minnesota City, Minn.
Bolkert was able to pull himself from the river and found temporary refuge on a nearby island where he made a 911 call from his cell phone to the Winona County Sheriff’s Office. They contacted Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Conservation Officer Tom Hemker of Winona, who knew the area the call came from, and possessed the right equipment to make a rescue.
“The sheriff’s office has a program that brings up an address and a GPS location on all calls, so they pinpointed the location near Minnesota City, which I know real well,” Hemker said. “With that vital information, and an airboat in tow, I knew we were in business.” Hemker made his way to the Pool 5-A landing on the river.
But with 4-6 inches of fresh snow, the airboat was frozen to the trailer. Hemker tried to free the airboat by driving backwards and then slamming on the brakes, but it didn’t work.
Two Winona police officers helped push the airboat off the trailer while Hemker worked a pry-bar. “I could not have removed the airboat from the trailer by myself, I can’t thank those officers enough.”
With the sun beginning to set, temps dropping fast and the wind starting to pick up, Hemker put the airboat into the river and about 20 minutes later, found a cold, soaked, disoriented Bolkert.
“It was completely dark when I brought him in and the snow was swirling to the point where if the rescue had started a half-hour later vision would have gone from 50 yards to 10 feet,” Hemeker said. “You couldn’t see anything. Absolutely amazing that Adam is alive.”
A waiting ambulance at the landing met the conservation officer and Bolkert. The teen was taken to Community Memorial Hospital in Winona.
“I was almost afraid to hear what the news was going to be when I picked him up, but last I heard he’s going to be fine,” Hemker said
Hemker said it’s just another example of DNR having the right equipment for the job.
“Airboats are the only things can get you into and out of a situation like that,” he said. “If DNR didn’t have them, I have no idea how we would have rescued him. What an unbelievable piece of equipment.”
Source: Minnesota DNR News Release