2 sisters survive frigid night after canoe mishap

The St. Paul women reached an island in the St. Croix River after their canoe tipped, dumping them into the water.

Surely providence played a role in the fact that St. Paul sisters Erin and Holly Stojan emerged Monday alive and well after their canoe trip on the St. Croix River went scarily awry.

"They are doing quite well," Burnett County (Wis.) Sheriff Dean Roland said Monday, not long after the women were rescued from a speck of an island in the river near Grantsburg, Wis., almost 21 hours after the women had left on a four-hour trip.

Erin Stojan, 29, and Holly Stojan, 27, put in their canoe shortly before 1 p.m. Sunday at Nelson's Landing, north of Grantsburg. A search for them began about 7 p.m. after the two didn't arrive at their pickup spot, 8 miles down the river, the Sheriff's Office said.

Their mother, Mary Jimmerson, of Underwood, Minn., said Erin and Holly's canoe capsized and their paddles were lost. They righted it and thought they could maneuver, but the canoe overturned again when they hit a rock.

Somehow, a plastic grocery bag containing dry clothes "landed up in some branches," Jimmerson said. "They actually had some dry clothes to put on."

Water temperature was in the low 40s, the Sheriff's Office said. The women, who were wearing life jackets, were described as having a "moderate skill level" in canoeing but were unfamiliar with that stretch of the river.

Roland, who spoke with the sisters, said that when their canoe overturned, they got out of the chilly, quick-flowing waters "real quick" and got on the island.

The women had no matches, flashlights or cell phones, Roland said. But having dry clothes may have saved their lives as temperatures dropped to 40, their mother said.

"They are both OK," she said. "They got really, really cold but they covered up with leaves and kind of hunkered down for the night."

Rescue boat developed hole

Searchers worked until 12:30 a.m., Jimmerson said, but were thwarted when the rescue boat developed a hole and was ordered to return to shore.

The search resumed at 6 a.m., and a law enforcement aircraft spotted the sisters waving orange seat covers from the canoe about 8 a.m. on the island near Fox's Landing, the Sheriff's Office said.

They were taken to the Burnett Medical Center in Grantsburg, where they were treated for minor injuries and released.

"We're really happy about that," Jimmerson said Monday evening. "We didn't know if somebody grabbed them, if they fell and hit their head or something. It's scary, it really is."

Erin Stojan is a program coordinator for Fresh Energy; Holly Stojan is a senior business analyst at United Healthcare. Both are engaged to be married, and both fiancés were at the river helping with the search, Jimmerson said.

Three months earlier in the same stretch of the St. Croix River, a man weighing nearly 500 pounds lay injured after rocks ripped through his river tube. Twelve hours later about 50 people rescued Martin Rike from the rocky stretch of the river by pushing and dragging a makeshift raft of three canoes lashed together through ankle-deep water to an ambulance 3 miles away.

pwalsh@startribune.com • 612-673-4482 ppheifer@startribune.com • 651-298-1551

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