By Starrla Cray
DASSEL, MN When Dassel resident Brant Duhn and his friends set out to fish on Lake Jennie in the early hours of May 9, they didn’t expect to save the lives of five anglers who were in danger of drowning, but that’s exactly what happened.
“He saved me and my four friends,” said James Peterson of Litchfield. “He’s a superhero in my eyes.”
Duhn and his friends Paul Leom of Anoka, and Dan Gosswiller and Dave Dickey of Inver Grove Heights, went out just after midnight to be one of the first on the lake for the fishing opener.
Shortly after 2 a.m., they decided to bring the boat to shore.
“Then, we heard people hollering,” Duhn said. “Sometimes, people will yell if they catch a fish or are partying, but this sounded different. It wasn’t quite the sound of ‘I caught a walleye.’”
Duhn and Gosswiller put the boat back in the water to check, and that’s when they saw flashing headlights. The anglers’ boat was upside down and had sunk partway underwater, but the headlights were still visible.
“We saw two guys with life jackets,” Duhn said. The three men without life jackets were hanging onto the boat, about 100 yards away.
Peterson, along with Travis Miller, Eric Norlin, Alex Miller, and Ben Steinhofer, all of Litchfield, had been in the 58-degree water for about 30 minutes.
Travis Miller had gone underwater twice, Peterson said, but Steinhofer pulled him back up.
“When he heard help was coming, it gave him enough adrenaline to hang on for a few more minutes,” Duhn said.
The men were wearing heavy waders and were about a half-mile from shore.
“When [the waders] fill with water, it pulls you down,” Duhn explained. “You can’t swim against that.”
“I remember the water being really cold and dark and yellow,” Peterson said. “It was definitely scary.”
The harsh winds made it difficult to hear the screaming, Duhn said.
“I didn’t think we were going to get rescued,” Peterson said. “It was very cold and windy.”
Duhn and Gosswiller used ropes to pull all five men into the boat. Peterson said that when he got in the boat, it was hard to move because he was so cold.
“Hypothermia was just a matter of time,” he said.
Duhn, who lives with his wife, Karen, on Lake Jennie, brought the men back to his garage, turned on the heat, and helped them dry off.
“They were exhausted and shivering, but otherwise OK and thankful to be alive,” one of Duhn’s friends posted on a forum at www.fishingminnesota.com.
In less than one hour, the men were warmed up and ready to leave. No one was injured, but Duhn knows it easily could have been a different story.
“If they wouldn’t have had those flashing headlights and started screaming, we would have seen helicopters out there instead,” he said.
“Thankfully he came and checked on it,” Peterson said. “I definitely have a lot of respect for him.”
The 14-foot boat the five anglers were using was designed for two people, and the added weight made the boat sink, Peterson said. There were only two life jackets on board.
The next time Peterson goes fishing, he plans to be more careful.
“I won’t be in a boat for a little while,” he said. “When I do, I’ll have 10 life jackets around me.”
Peterson said he hopes Duhn will be honored by the community in some way.
“He deserves it,” Peterson said.
Duhn is a part-time bartender at the Lamplighter in Hutchinson. He’s also a self-employed handyman/contractor through Brant Duhn Houseworks.