A deadly accident on Lake of the Woods on Sunday shows that even in an open boat, carbon monoxide can kill, authorities said Wednesday.
“A perfect storm” of dangers, including a busted exhaust pipe that was jury-rigged, combined to kill two men and nearly kill a third, said a sheriff’s dispatcher and an expert with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Found dead in a 25-foot cruiser on Sunday night were owner Lonnie Ray Norberg, 44, and Jeffrey E. Wheeler, 35, both of Champlin.
Their fishing buddy, Christopher Klick, 43, of Crystal, said that sometime after 6:30 p.m., he fell unconscious for at least four hours before awakening in pitch black with big waves tossing the boat on the huge lake, which straddles the border between Minnesota and Canada.
Klick, badly battered and burned from the engine, managed to get the boat started and drive for 10-15 minutes toward lights on shore before running aground, he said in an interview Tuesday night from a hospital bed in Grand Forks.
The 1990 Baja cruiser had an inboard, 260-horsepower motor, dispatchers said. After the incident, the boat was towed from the Birch Beach area north of Williams to the Lake of the Woods County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies found part of the exhaust system broken.
An aluminum pop can was found shoved in one of the boat’s two exhaust pipes, apparently to plug water from washing back into the engine compartment, the sheriff’s office said.
“Somewhere between where it’s connected to the engine and where it goes out of the boat, it was broken,” a dispatcher said. “And they just left the one side dumping into the bilge area, but they put a pop can in the other side so the water wouldn’t come back in the boat.”
That forced exhaust fumes back into the engine compartment, officials said.
On the deck, an engine hatch known as a “doghouse” had been lifted off and not put back on, the sheriff’s office said. Fumes vented up through that opening.
The wind, estimated at 10 to 15 miles per hour by Klick and law enforcement officials, was at the men’s backs and apparently kept blowing the fumes at them as they sat on the main deck.
In front of the men, a hard top and windshield around the helm may have enabled fumes to collect, authorities said.
The water was rough Sunday night, Klick said, with waves 4 to 5 feet high.
Carbon-monoxide symptoms resemble seasickness, said Kara Owens, DNR boat and water safety specialist.
“Any passenger on really any boat with a motor or generator can be a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning, and unfortunately, this is just a tragic reminder that these dangers can happen when you least know it,” Owens said.
“Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless gas, and it can be toxic in very small quantities.”