Houghton-Hancock Michigan, Lake Superior Search

Saturday, September 17th, 61-year-old Keith Karvonen of Atlantic Mine, MI; 43-year-old Steven Chartre of Negaunee/Ishpeming area and his 9-year-old son Ethan boarded Karvonen’s 14-foot boat to do some fishing. Later that evening they were reported missing

Once the report was made, searching for the trio were crews from: Coast Guard Station Marquette, Michigan, Coast Guard Station Portage, Michigan, Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City, Michigan, Coast Guard Air Station Detroit, Coast Guard Cutter Biscayne Bay, Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Canadian Department of National Defense. Also searching are aircraft from around the U.S. and Canada including C-130s.

The crews ended their massive and exhaustive search efforts on September 21st. I reached out to the family to offer our services to which they said that they were in contact Tom Crossman out of Duluth MN. I had actually met Tom earlier this year at a conference, so I decided to reach out to him and see if he wanted our help. Tom graciously accepted.

September 28th, Beth and I headed out on the 7 hour drive for Houghton, Michigan. We met with Tom, his partner Dave and some of the family members that evening. The following morning, we met again with Tom and Dave at the boat landing to devise a strategic plan to hopefully locate the fishermen. We decided I was to focus a search area approximately 5 miles off shore near a cell phone ping that was detected and Tom was to work from the portage entry and work towards the direction of the the cell ping.

September 29th and day one of our search efforts were not as calm as we would have liked. We were in 400 feet of water and having trouble getting the tow fish (sonar) near the bottom. The wind, waves and current were making it very challenging to get good images.

September 30th, and day two, we mounted a depressor wing that a good friend of mine; Will Nash, had made for us. To buy one of these depressors new is $4000.00. (Think of a lead weight you attach to a fishing line). It’s essentially a 40 pound weight attached to the tow fish that is hydrodynamically shaped so it glides through the water and helps drive our tow fish down to the depths that we need, allowing us to get great images of the lake bottom. Unfortunately, nothing of interest had shown up on our images by the end of the day.

October 1st, and day three, we located a boat in 280’ of water. We circled around to make a second pass of the possible missing 14’ boat and received a very nice image confirming it was an actual boat that measured approximately 16’. The excitement of finding the boat rapidly went south.

All of the sudden our boat stopped and began taking an immediate 180 degree turn. At this same time, realizing I still have 600’ of cable out with a $35,000.00 tow fish attached, I only have 50’ of cable remaining on the winch and cable is starting to get pulled out. It’s like catching a big fish that starts to strip line from your reel. You see, the winch is designed much like that of a fishing rod. It will let out cable if it snags something, instead of breaking the cable. This is my first experience snagging on something, yet I know it’s always a serious problem we can encounter.

We slowly directed the boat in the direction of the tow fish, reeling up cable to the point that is was straight beneath our boat and was pulling tight. I knew we were still hung up on the snag, so I called Tom and Dave over for help.

Having about $175,000.00 of my equipment hanging on this cable was not a good feeling. Tom must have clearly understood from the tone of my voice because it didn’t take them long to arrive.

Tom went ahead to deploy his ROV and we first thought it was possibly a fishing net we snagged. From the view of Tom’s ROV camera, it looked like we were free from our snag. We couldn’t see anything on my tow fish and began to winch the fish up but quickly notice it was still pulling up very had. When we finally got the tow fish up to the waters surface, we noticed an anchor line from the boat on the bottom was wrapped around our tow fish.

With the help of Tom and Dave we were able to get the anchor line from the boat on the bottom up and tied off to Tom’s boat. There is no way we could have ever got this all done without these guys. Once we caught our breath, Tom and Dave again deployed the ROV to investigate the boat to see if it’s in fact, the 14’ boat we’ve been searching for. These guys worked incredibly as a team.

Soon we identified this was the 14’ boat of Karvonan’s and that the three missing fishermen are in close proximity to the boat. We quickly notified the local authorities who passed on approval for Tom to recover the fisherman using his ROV. Tom and Dave were able to bring two of the three individuals up to the surface and on the boat. The third, will require additional assistance because of entanglement issues. (We’ve been told on Monday, October 3rd, the Michigan State Police will be on scene to utilize a larger ROV to bring the last remaining fisherman home).

We then all met the family back at the dock to brief them on the situation. This always becomes one of the toughest moments. However, we know this is what offers families the chance to move forward in the grieving process and accommodate their family members.

It’s important we recognize and give appreciation for the many others who assist in these endeavors. It’s not always possible to list everyone but we try to make sure it’s known who the unsung heroes are. For those who haven’t physically taken part in operations like this before, it’s important you are aware the sacrifice involved and vital importance their roles play…To Beth Darst for once again taking time off from work and doing so much to facilitate our operations running smooth. Will Nash and his engineering talents with the depressor wing. The Coast Guard that got us in touch with the MSP who in turn, placed us in contact with the Houghton County Sheriff’s Department which shared information on this case. Super 8 in Houghton for offering us a discounted rate but once we arrived the owner decided to not charge for as long as we needed to be there. The Marina for allowing us to dock our boats. And largely for Tom Crossman and his partner Dave Phillips accepting our offer to assist. They helped in the heat of the moment and shared their knowledge and passion towards the same goal we all have; providing families the closure that is so important.

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