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Brad Dokken, Forum Communications Co., Published July 02 2010

Grand Forks man recounts ordeal on Lake of the Woods

Trapped underneath a capsized boat in the middle of Lake of the Woods and struggling for air, Alonzo Guzman had resigned himself to a simple, but harsh reality:

He was going to die. And he was ready.

“I wanted to be brave – play the man,” Guzman, 52, said. “I wanted to have lots of faith. I thought, ‘I’m going to my maker.’ ”

Guzman, of Grand Forks, was fishing Monday afternoon with six other men, including his son, Brandon, and brothers, Paul and Fred, when the boat, a 24-foot Sea Ray, started taking on water.

According to the Lake of the Woods County Sheriff’s Department, Gary Noble, 71, Baudette, Minn., was operating the boat, which was anchored in about 32 feet of water six miles north of Pine Island. A hose had blown off the live well, the report said, allowing water to flood the boat.

Just like that, Guzman said, the afternoon went from catching walleyes and having fun to struggling for survival. Within a minute or two, the boat had flipped, and Guzman was the only one who wasn’t able to jump from the capsized craft.

Son Brandon, 25, said the boat already had flipped when he realized his father hadn’t gotten out. Like the other five men, Brandon said he clung to the capsized boat until two other boats fishing nearby came to their rescue.

“I knew my dad was missing,” Brandon said. “I didn’t know he was still alive until about 1 1/2 hours later.”

He and his uncle, Paul Guzman, waited in one of the rescue boats, praying and hoping that Alonzo somehow was still alive below the capsized Sea Ray.

Tied in place

Clinging to life near the bow of the capsized boat, Alonzo said only his head and neck remained above water. Somehow, he managed to tie himself to the boat using the rope from a life preserver.

“I didn’t want to float to Canada,” he said. “I wanted to stay with the boat.”

While the family and fishing partners watched helplessly, Brian Ney of Adrian’s Resort arrived on the scene after hearing a Mayday call on the radio back at the resort. Ney, assisted by Roger Peterson, picked up three of the rescued men, who’d been waiting in a smaller boat.

They boated closer to the capsized craft and hollered, Ney said, and heard a faint response. At that point, Ney decided to put on a life jacket and swim to the boat.

He was able to make contact with Guzman by knocking on the boat and yelling.

Rescued at last

According to the sheriff’s report, rescue workers stayed in contact with Guzman until divers Marc Hodge and Jim Thompson arrived.

It took three tries, but Hodge finally was able to rescue Guzman, who by that time had been trapped under the capsized boat nearly three hours.

‘Got to face my fears'

After the rescue, which also included Steve Ballard of Ballard’s Resort and Tony Beckel of Sportsman’s Lodge, Guzman was taken to the hospital in Baudette but released after a couple of hours. Guzman said he still relives the incident in his mind, especially at night.

“I’m glad I’m on the ground, but I still struggle,” Guzman said. “It was tough, man.”

Guzman said he also plans to fish Lake of the Woods again.

“Oh yeah, I’ve got to face my fears,” he said.

Brad Dokken is a writer for the Grand Forks Herald