'I'm going to my maker'
Trapped underneath a capsized boat in the middle of Lake of the Woods and struggling for air, Alonzo Guzman had resigned himself to a simple, but harsh reality:...
Trapped underneath a capsized boat in the middle of Lake of the Woods and struggling for air, Alonzo Guzman had resigned himself to a simple, but harsh reality:
He was going to die. And he was ready.
"I wanted to be brave -- play the man," Guzman, 52, said. "I wanted to have lots of faith. I thought, 'I'm going to my maker.'"
Guzman, of Grand Forks, was fishing Monday afternoon with six other men, including his son, Brandon, and brothers, Paul and Fred, when the boat, a 24-foot Sea Ray, started taking on water.
According to the Lake of the Woods County Sheriff's Department, Gary Noble, 71, Baudette, Minn., was operating the boat, which was anchored in about 32 feet of water six miles north of Pine Island. A hose had blown off the livewell, the report said, allowing water to flood the boat.
Just like that, Guzman said, the afternoon went from catching walleyes and having fun to struggling for survival. Within a minute or two, the boat had flipped, and Guzman was the only one who wasn't able to jump from the capsized craft.
"When I seen that water coming up my body, I cried," Guzman recalled Thursday afternoon, back at work at Peoples Barbers in Grand Cities Mall but still visibly shaken from his ordeal. "I prayed for my wife and my mother not to hurt so much. I said The Lord's Prayer as loud as I could. I said, 'I love you, Jesus Christ. I hope I'm worthy of eternal life.'"
Son Brandon, 25, said the boat already had flipped when he realized his father hadn't gotten out. Like the other five men, Brandon said he clung to the capsized boat until two other boats fishing nearby came to their rescue.
"I knew my dad was missing," Brandon said. "I didn't know he was still alive until about 1½ hours later."
He and his uncle, Paul Guzman, waited in one of the rescue boats, praying and hoping that Alonzo somehow was still alive below the capsized Sea Ray.
"I said so many Hail Marys and so many prayers," Brandon said.
Tied in place
Clinging to life near the bow of the capsized boat, Alonzo said only his head and neck remained above water. Somehow, he managed to tie himself to the boat using the rope from a life preserver.
"I didn't want to float to Canada," he said. "I wanted to stay with the boat."
While the family and fishing partners watched helplessly, Brian Ney of Adrian's Resort arrived on the scene after hearing a "Mayday" call on the radio back at the resort. Ney, assisted by Roger Peterson, picked up three of the rescued men, who'd been waiting in a smaller boat.
They boated closer to the capsized craft and hollered, Ney said, and heard a faint response. At that point, Ney decided to put on a lifejacket and swim to the boat.
"When I first got over there, I tried yelling and didn't hear nothing, so I knocked on the boat, and he knocked back," Ney said. "After that, I was able to just loudly and slowly say, 'Are you OK?' and he basically he said he was fine."
Said Guzman: "I heard yelling, and I yelled back. I thought, 'All right, I've got hope.'"
Ney got back into his boat after a rescue worker from Lake of the Woods County arrived but stayed at the site.
"The family members wanted to see their brother, so we stayed out there," Ney said. "Nobody thought the seventh guy was going to be found alive, that's for sure, so it was a big relief when we heard that first response because basically they were already grieving. And when they heard that response, the attitude changed in a hurry."
Rescued at last
According to the sheriff's report, rescue workers stayed in contact with Guzman until divers Marc Hodge and Jim Thompson arrived.
It took three tries, but Hodge finally was able to rescue Guzman, who by that time had been trapped under the capsized boat nearly three hours.
That, too, was a struggle.
"I was all tied up, and I struggled to get untied," Guzman said. "My air was running out. I couldn't breathe. I wanted to take a deep breath but I couldn't. I let myself go. My eyes were open under the water. I could see the bubbles as my last breath was going out."
Free of the boat, Guzman said he left the rest to his rescuers.
"I let them guide me to the top," he said. "I could see the sky, I could feel the air, but I couldn't breathe until I started coughing. I put my life in their arms. They managed to throw me into the boat. They told me everybody was OK."
Guzman said the ordeal seemed to pass in 15 minutes.
"I honestly think I passed out," he said.
Lake of the Woods County Sheriff Dallas Block said he thought for awhile Monday afternoon that authorities were going to be dragging the bottom of Lake of the Woods for a body.
Instead, the team effort between local resorts and authorities resulted in Guzman's dramatic rescue. An angler fishing nearby also shot video of the rescue, which is posted on YouTube.
"It was a tremendous rescue," Block said. "We had rough water -- 8-plus-foot waves, and so you can imagine. We thought we were going to have a dragging operation and it turned out we had a successful rescue and only because of the help of our resorters."
After the rescue, which also included Steve Ballard of Ballard's Resort and Tony Beckel of Sportsman's Lodge, Guzman was taken to the hospital in Baudette but released after a couple of hours. Three days later, Guzman said he still relives the incident in his mind, especially at night.
"I'm glad I'm on the ground, but I still struggle," Guzman said. "It was tough, man."
Still, he couldn't help but smile Thursday afternoon when a customer leaving the barbershop asked: "Are you feeling a little drier today?"
"Yes," he said with a laugh.
Guzman said he also plans to fish Lake of the Woods again.
"Oh yeah, I've got to face my fears," he said.
Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .