Wed Nov 04, 2009
MUNUSCONG BAY — For three friends from downstate a quiet duck hunt on Munuscong Bay turned into a battle for their lives on Friday, October 30.
“It was a quiet hunt, with none of us even taking our safety off. However it was pleasurable nonetheless, just to be out on the bay in one of my favorite places,” said Alonzo Knowles of Traverse City of the hunting trip with his two friends, Simon Joseph of Lake Ann and Kyle Marshall of Elk Rapids, and his dog, “Maisey.”
At the beginning of their hunt the weather was warm but very windy — out of the south at 30-plus mph. On their journey from Barbeau to Sand Island, they experienced 2 to 3 foot waves, which Knowles said aren’t uncommon on the bay and their boat handled it well.
“But our trip back was entirely different,” Knowles said.
Immediately after rounding the north point of Sand Island, the hunters realized that the waves were larger and were coming across the bow instead of beside the boat.
“In the dark, it was hard to tell that the waves had grown quite as much as they had,” Knowles said. “When we took our first wave over the bow of our boat, it was already too late.”
Knowles continued, “Maybe it was a rogue wave, but whatever the case, two more waves followed it and within 30 seconds we were swamped and going down.”
After another 30 seconds they were capsized and the three friends and the dog were in the cold water.
“It was an extremely unnerving moment for all of us,” Knowles said. “After 20 years hunting Munuscong and 30 years of chasing ducks on the Great Lakes, dangerous possibilities are always in the back of your mind, but it is not something that you want to dwell on.”
Fortunately, Knowles cellular phone was kept dry when they capsized. He had get just enough cell signal to get off a 911 call on which he gave their coordinates. Then the phone was thoroughly soaked and dead.
“The next two hours were the longest of all our lives,” Knowles said. “In retrospect, I was fortunate to be with two other strong, calm minded individuals who stepped up and displayed nothing less than heroic efforts towards our group’s survival.
“At some point around an hour or so into our ordeal,” Knowles added, “my dog Maisey, slipped off the bottom of our boat, and that was the last we saw of her. I can’t quite explain how we were able to hold onto the bottom of that boat, which was submerged below the water somewhat. The waves were crashing over us constantly and in 46 degree water our arms and legs were becoming non-responsive and with our core temps coming down. We realized it was only a matter of time before hypothermia would take hold and completely disable us.”
After receiving the 911 call, emergency crews were dispatched from the Sault and surrounding areas. Rescue teams from the U.S. Coast Guard from Sector Sault, the Michigan DNR, Michigan State Police, the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Department and the Traverse City Coast Guard base. Also, when private citizens heard the distress call on the scanner, they helped with the search and rescue.
“I’m not sure exactly how many people were involved,” Knowles said. “But each responder selflessly put his life on the line for us that night. They fought through 3-5 foot waves, 30-plus mph winds and periods of fog to save our lives. Without their efforts, I question whether we would be alive today.”
After two hours in the water, the hunters were rescued by MSP Trooper Dan Rambo, Chippewa County Sheriff’s Deputy Kip Moeggenborg and one other officer whose name Knowles did not get.
“Shaking uncontrollably from the onset of hypothermia on the bottom of our boat, much of the ride back to shore was a blur to me,” Knowles said. “We were greeted by an ambulance with warm blankets open arms and smiling faces.
“Never in my life have I been so humbled,” Knowles added. “Thanks to the efforts of all involved, a most successful outcome was achieved. Not only had we been rescued, I was also informed that the word had gone out that my 18-month-old, yellow lab was lost in the marsh.”
Rambo and Moeggenborg went out of their way to get the word out to the local community about Maisey.
Concerned Barbeau residents mobilized their efforts and spent countless hours walking the shoreline, wading the swamps, and searching the marsh by boat. On Sunday morning, after 36 hours in the marsh, Maisey and Knowles were reunited. They found her after driving down several miles of flooded two tracks off of 18 Mile Road.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!,” Knowles said. “Never could I have imagined an outcome like this. I can’t begin to express how thankful we all are for your combined efforts.”