Duluth teen clings to life after rescue from the cribsA 13-year-old Duluth teen underwater in Lake Superior for more than 30 minutes was clinging to life in a Duluth hospital late Monday after being rescued just off shore.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
A 13-year-old Duluth teen underwater in Lake Superior for more than 30 minutes was clinging to life in a Duluth hospital late Monday after being rescued just off shore.
Jeffrey Carlos Watson Jr. had been swimming with friends near the old concrete structure called the cribs, or Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum, just off Duluth’s Lakewalk waterfront trail when he went under and didn’t surface.
Friends called 911 about 4:15 Monday afternoon, and crews from the Duluth Fire Department, the U.S. Coast Guard, St. Louis County Sheriff’s deputies, the St. Louis County Rescue Squad and Duluth Police arrived within minutes.
Rescuers used boat poles, grappling hooks and a remotely operated vehicle with a camera to help locate Watson.
Dave Phillips, St. Louis County undersheriff and an expert in underwater search and rescue efforts, said firefighters first on the scene got a good “last location” of the teen from his friends at the scene and thought they had Watson spotted at one point.
“The firefighters were in (buoyant) survival suits and they couldn’t get down deep enough. So they put the ROV right under them and used it to nudge him up so the firefighters could grab him and pull him to shore,” Phillips said.
The remotely operated vehicle was controlled on shore by Tom Crossmon, captain of the St. Louis County Rescue Squad, Phillips said.
As a crowd of hundreds of walkers, tourists and passersby looked on, Watson was pulled to shore, lifted over the boulders by rescue crews and placed on a gurney and into a Gold Cross ambulance waiting on the Lakewalk.
Phillips said the teen was in Essentia-St. Mary’s Medical Center “in surgery, very critical. But he had a pulse back. But drowning is so traumatic for the body. By no means is he out of the woods.”
“He’s not getting worse, not getting better, as they slowly try to warm his core back up,” Phillips added.
About 10:30 p.m., a spokeswoman for Essentia said Watson would be transported by helicopter to the University of Minnesota Medical Center for further care there.
Acting Duluth Assistant Fire Chief Ron Booth said the water’s cold temperature, estimated to be in the lower 40s, could help Watson’s chances, noting there have been cases where people were submerged for long periods in cold water and survived.
Phillips was in a county rescue boat involved in the search. He said the water was only 6-12 feet deep at the site but was extremely murky because of recent rains and wind. He praised the coordinated efforts of so many agencies to get to the scene and recover the boy.
“It happened within that golden hour in a drowning when there is still hope,” Phillips said. “It was a great team effort by all the agencies. Everyone had their niche.”
The “mausoleum” is a popular spot for teens and others on warm days to climb and then jump into Lake Superior, just off the popular Lakewalk along the waterfront.
“There are no lifeguards down here,” Booth said, noting that people need to be careful and should swim at the official Park Point beach when lifeguards are on duty.
“Ironically, we’ve had at least two ROV training exercises there (at the cribs) because of this exact reason. Kids love to hang out there. It’s an attractive nuisance,” Phillips said.
The cribs were originally built in 1919 as an unloading pier for sand and gravel but were abandoned in 1922 after Lake Superior’s storms rendered it unusable.