Citizens, volunteers conduct daring lake rescue

By Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

A family gathering of three generations turned into a harrowing fight for survival during a wind storm last week.

Thanks to the efforts of citizens and volunteers, eight members of a single family are alive and well after their boat capsized in the turbulent Priest Lake waters on Aug. 16. According to Gil Tumey of Priest Lake EMTs, it was luck or providence that brought about this happy ending.

“So many things fell into place for that family that if one link was missing, they wouldn’t have survived,” he said.

The family, comprised of a 67-year-old female, a 66-year-old male, a 53-year-old male, a 44-year-old female, a 17-year-old male, a 14-year-old female, a 10-year-old male and a nine-year-old female, was enjoying a day on Priest Lake near West Twin Island when the Tuesday windstorm suddenly hit. Their Boston Whaler eventually capsized, leaving the family hanging on for dear life in the cold water.

Thankfully, they were spotted by Kathy Zentz, who tried to rescue them in her own boat, eventually recovering the 17-year-old who had drifted away from the boat. When the rough water halted any additional rescues, she reported the incident to Priest Lake Marina manager Ed Sprinkle.

“From her standpoint, it was a miracle that [Zentz] saw them in the first place,” said Tumey.

Bonner County Sheriff boat Marine 1 responded to the call but soon reported it would be at least another hour before they reached the site due to rough waters. In another stroke of fortune, Priest Lake Ambulance volunteer Zach Cannizzaro happened to be south of the location and picked up the distress call on his radio. He was able to rescue the rest of the family, and the various agencies then worked with Zentz to reunite them with their 17-year-old.

“They were thankful, relieved and somewhat traumatized by what could have been,” Tumey said. “There were three generations of people in the water, so it’s pretty scary.”

Indeed, the accident was a very close shave. According to Tumey, the family was in the water for around two hours and required treatment for cold exposure. If they had been in the water much longer, the complications from hypothermia could have been much more severe.

“The Bonner County Board of Commissioners would like to thank and congratulate everyone involved in this incredible rescue,” Commission Chairman Cary Kelly said in a press release. “They risked their own safety in extreme conditions to help strangers and I don’t think there’s any doubt that without their selfless acts, an entire family could have been lost. They represent the very best of us.”

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