'It was bad, but we just couldn't leave'

The successful rescue of a Grand Forks fisherman who was trapped under a capsized boat for three hours June 28 on Lake of the Woods started with a coincidence in a nearby fishing boat.


The successful rescue of a Grand Forks fisherman who was trapped under a capsized boat for three hours June 28 on Lake of the Woods started with a coincidence in a nearby fishing boat.

As reported in the Herald on July 2, Alonzo Guzman, 52, Grand Forks, was one of seven men aboard the 24-foot Sea Ray that capsized after a leaky live well hose caused the boat to take on water about six miles north of Pine Island. While the other six men managed to get out of the upturned boat and cling to the hull, Guzman was trapped below in the front of the capsized craft, only his neck and head above water.

Local resort personnel and rescue crews, including Grand Forks native Marc Hodge (a diver for the Roseau, Minn., Police Department), ultimately freed Guzman from the boat and got all seven men safely to shore.

But it was fisherman Bruce Ryan, 51, Rochester, Minn.; his brother, Terry, 53, Apple Valley, Minn.; and their dad, George, 85, also of Rochester, who first heard the cries for help and came to the rescue when the boat capsized.

And if George Ryan hadn't hooked into a 29-inch walleye just as they were reeling in their lines to head back to shore in water that was growing rougher by the minute, the trio of anglers would have missed the whole encounter, Bruce Ryan says.


That coincidence, and the role the Ryans played in the rescue, wasn't reported in the original story.

"Right when we were landing the fish, we heard the screams for help," Bruce Ryan said in a recent telephone interview. "All of the guys slid to the back corner, and a wave came over the back corner of the boat and tipped it completely over.

"If my dad wouldn't have caught that fish, we would have been gone. ... It was really kind of a fate thing that was meant to be, that we were there."

Sudden turn of events

Ryan said they'd been fishing near the anchored Sea Ray about four hours, talking back and forth about the great walleye action both boats were enjoying every time they drifted within earshot.

"Fishing was good, and they were happy and having a good time," Ryan said. "We were enjoying fishing and having a good time and we went by and everything was great maybe eight minutes before the boat overturned."

Then they heard the screams for help.

"The picture of those six guys on that boat I'll never forget," Ryan said. "That would have been a picture for whatever magazine. We had the camera sitting on the dash, but we knew we couldn't take the time to take a picture of them in that situation. They waves were so big, and they were all clinging to the tip of that boat."


Feeling a sense of, "This can't be happening," but knowing they had to do something, Ryan said, they boated closer to the six men clinging to the tip of the boat and managed to throw a rescue line to Brandon Guzman, 25, Alonzo's son.

That's when they noticed Gary Noble, Baudette, Minn., who was piloting the boat, clinging to one of Paul Guzman's sandals while Guzman held on to Noble's jacket. Just then a wave hit, Ryan recalls, and Noble's grip on Guzman's sandal was down to three fingers.

"That's when I told my brother, we better move in and get him because he's going to go," Ryan said.

Risky rescue

Approaching the overturned boat in the big waves was risky, Ryan said, but they drove up on the downwind side so he and his brother, Terry, could grab Noble, give him a lifejacket and slide the 71-year-old man into the back of their fishing boat, a 19½-foot Ranger, which sustained minor damage after hitting the motor of the overturned boat.

They also brought Paul Guzman into the boat, which now was loaded beyond capacity with the added weight of three men in heavy waves.

With three men still clinging to the boat, George Ryan managed to get the attention of a father and his young son fishing a few hundred yards away. The man in the second boat drove up and got the three other men off the overturned boat and soon headed to shore.

"The other boat had a young boy, about 8 years old, and he was really worried and wanted to go back in," Bruce Ryan said. "If they weren't there, it would have been a lot more difficult situation having six in our boat, so it was a great thing they were able to see us and willing to come in and help."


Ryan said he never learned the other rescuer's name.

"He took the other three back, and by that time, the wind was really kicking up, and the waves were getting high," Ryan said. "When our boat would start to turn, we were taking water over the back of our boat and had to try to keep the boat completely sideways."

Drifting nearby

Ryan had called for help on his marine band radio but said it was at least an hour before Brian Ney of Adrian's Resort and Roger Peterson of Baudette arrived to help in one of the resort's charter boats.

In the meantime, Ryan said, they drifted on the waves to minimize the chances of taking on even more water. They were perhaps a half-mile from the overturned boat, which remained anchored, when Ney and Peterson arrived.

Ryan said they did their best to assure Brandon and Paul Guzman and Gary Noble that everything was going to be OK.

"Brandon was sitting right between me and my dad, and he was praying," Ryan said. "It was sad, but we just wanted to lend support and be strong, and Brandon kept asking me and my dad if his dad was going to be OK.

"We told him there was a good chance his dad was going to be fine and said all we can do is hope for the best."


The first priority, Ryan said, was to get enough life jackets for everyone and the Guzmans and Noble transferred to Ney's boat.

It was then, Ryan recalls, the resort boat got close enough to the overturned boat for Ney and Brandon Guzman to yell and hear Alonzo Guzman's reply that he was alive. And even though they were low on fuel, Ryan said, he and his dad and brother stayed on the scene until authorities and divers ultimately freed Alonzo from the boat.

"The wind was picking up, and it was bad, but we just couldn't leave," Ryan said. "I looked at Terry and said if we run out of fuel, there's enough people there somebody is going to get us back, and Terry and my dad said the same thing: 'Let's stay.' We had to stay no matter if we ran out of fuel or not; we wanted to make sure he got out OK."

Overwhelming relief

Ryan, who said he was shaking at least three hours after they got back to shore, said he'll never forget the feeling of knowing the rescue was successful, and everyone was safe.

"It was very relieving and it was just ... the feeling was unbelievable," he said. "We were overwhelmed with joy."

And later that night back at Adrian's Resort, Gary Noble returned the jacket Ryan had loaned to Paul Guzman and expressed his thanks.

"He looked me in the eye, and he sincerely said thank you," Ryan said. "He thanked all of us and said if it hadn't been for you, we wouldn't have made it."


Ryan said all of the rescuers, from the resort personnel to divers and other authorities should be commended for the successful outcome.

"I was very amazed and impressed with how the divers handled the situation and evaluated the situation," Ryan said. "It was very well orchestrated, and they did a real good job of working together under pressure in a really, kind of a, short period of time."

Ryan, who owns a window and siding business in Rochester, said the encounter gives him a new appreciation for rescue workers and the work they do.

"We were very, very glad that we could help, but it's extremely stressful," Ryan said.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to .

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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