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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Both bodies recovered at Curtain Falls

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 6/6/24

REGIONAL- A 16-day search for the bodies of two canoeists who went over Curtain Falls last month came to an end this week with the recovery of the second body on Monday. The St. Louis Sheriff’s …

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Both bodies recovered at Curtain Falls


REGIONAL- A 16-day search for the bodies of two canoeists who went over Curtain Falls last month came to an end this week with the recovery of the second body on Monday. The St. Louis Sheriff’s Office made the announcement that they had located the body of Reis Melvin Grams, age 40, of Lino Lakes, just downstream of Curtain Falls.
The sheriff’s office announced the recovery of the body of Jesse Haugen, age 41, of Cambridge, on Friday, May 31 near the falls.
Both individuals have been missing since Friday, May 18, when four people in two separate canoes, were swept over the powerful falls, which forms the demarcation between Crooked and Iron lakes on the Minnesota-Canada border. The falls is deep inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The four individuals were fishing next to the falls on Crooked Lake at the time of the accident. One canoe began to have trouble, the other went to help, and both went over the falls. One of the other paddlers, Kyle Sellers, 47, was later airlifted to Essentia Duluth for serious but non-life-threatening injuries. The fourth paddler, Erik Grams, 43, of Ham Lake, who was in the canoe with his brother Reis, suffered multiple fractures to his pelvis but was still able to walk.
Grams, who spoke about the incident on KFAN radio in the Twin Cities last week, said he and his brother Reis were familiar with Curtain Falls. “We’d been going to Curtain Falls for ten years,” he said during his interview. “It was a place that was very dear to us. I actually proposed to my wife at Curtain Falls, so it has incredible meaning to me.”
Grams said the group had been having an outstanding trip up until that point, with fantastic fishing and great weather. “We were just enjoying ourselves and having the time of our lives,” he said.
On the day of the accident, the four men were fishing just upstream of the falls, when the canoe that held Haugen and Sellers tipped, and the current starting pulling both men toward the massive cataract. “They were too close the falls to escape the pull from the water and the falls,” Grams recalled. “The canoe went over along with Kyle first, and my brother and I were in our canoe together. We didn’t hesitate for a moment to attempt to rescue our friend Jesse. We knew were likely to go over the falls as well, but we weren’t going to leave our brother there. And, so we slowly proceeded to get as close as we could to make the rescue attempt. As soon as we made contact with Jesse, the current took myself and Reis over in our canoe as well and so the three of us went over the falls together.”
He said he has little memory of going over the falls, but went over upright in their canoe. The next thing he remembered, was being ten feet underwater and swimming upward to the light. He was able to reach the surface and grab a brief breath of air before the current sucked him under again. Each time the current sucked him under he was able to get back to the surface and he eventually was able to reach the Canadian side of the riverbank. There, he found his shoes had been sucked off by the current. “That’s a testament to the incredible power of this waterfall,” he said. “There are no pictures that do this waterfall any justice.”
He said by the time he reached shore, there was no sign of either canoe or any member of his party. He walked downstream searching for them, and eventually heard Sellers, who had climbed out onto a small island in the middle of the rapids some distance below the falls. He said he considered swimming through the rapids to reach him, but before he did that, a rescue appeared. A man named “Tony,” from Lakeville, showed up with a canoe and picked up Grams and Sellers. He had an emergency GPS device and contacted 911 dispatch to get help. Tony and his canoe partner further helped warm the two men, building a fire, giving them their sleeping bags, and then starting to search themselves for the two missing men.
The message to emergency responders prompted what turned out to be a 16-day effort by countless individuals to first transport the injured Sellers and eventually recover the bodies of the two deceased men. Grams said he was incredibly thankful for the “incredible effort” by volunteers and the National Guard to assist in their rescue and the search for the bodies.
Grams said one of the cadaver dogs caught a scent last Friday and the searchers were able to locate Haugen’s body in an eddy just downstream of the falls. As of the interview, Grams’ brother Reis’s body had not yet been found.