Christopher Klick awoke in pitch dark, disoriented and battered as the stalled boat bucked big waves on Lake of the Woods. He was pretty sure his two pals were dead on the deck nearby.
The boat’s engine-exhaust fumes must have somehow blown back into the partly enclosed deck as they were fishing Sunday evening, he said from a Grand Forks, N.D., hospital bed Tuesday.
“I woke up in the boat in the middle of the water with my two buddies dead, and the boat almost full of water,” said Klick, 43, of Crystal. “And I was able to drive it and navigate it back to shore.”
Autopsies by the Ramsey County medical examiner’s office reported that Klick’s friends — Lonnie Ray Norberg, 44, and Jeff Wheeler, 35, both of Champlin — died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.
“I don’t know how I made it,” Klick said. “I was out for four hours, and burned and bruised and battered from head to toe. I got a concussion. I can’t walk.”
They had been floating in Norberg’s 30-foot boat in the huge lake on the Canadian border. “The last time I remember it being was six thirty,” Klick said. “I went from being wide-awake to not remembering a thing, and waking up four or five hours later in the pitch black, freezing cold, drenched wet, bruised, burned and my knee swollen.”
Tall waves had violently rocked the boat, throwing him around the deck and into the engine, he said. Barely able to stand on torn knee ligaments, Klick managed to start the boat.
“I saw lights on shore, so I just drove to that area, where I saw the lights,” he said, adding that it took 10 or 15 long minutes.
He tried to call 911 with his cellphone. Sheriff’s dispatcher Cherie Anderson confirmed taking the call at 11:18 p.m. but said she could hear nothing on the line, except for a “glug, glug, glug” sound that she said sounded like water.
She called the phone company to try to learn who owned the cellphone.
Klick continued toward land, chilled to the bone.
“I flipped the spotlight,” he said. “Shining the spotlight on and off at this area where I saw there were people, and was on the horn of the boat, and got their attention before I got to shore, and was hollering out to them to call 911.”
Klick said he “ran the boat up onto the shore.”
Rescue workers arrived at 11:30 p.m. and found his two friends dead.
Tuesday night, Klick anguished over what went wrong. The boat has an inboard motor, he said. They were on the main part of the boat, on a fishing deck. The boat has a hard top, and where the helm is located is semi-enclosed but a person can walk all the way through.
“We were done fishing, and we were heading for shore. The wind was at our back, and there must have been just some kind of an exhaust leak or an exhaust malfunction, and there was enough exhaust in that engine area that it wasn’t escaping and it was able to blow up into the area that we were in,” Klick said.
“I don’t know, don’t have any answers,” he said Tuesday. “The wind was at 10 miles an hour, so there was wind. We were in an open area. It’s not like we were in a sealed area with a heater … so it’s just unbelievable. Unexplainable.”