Watching a movie in his Monticello home around 11 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, Tony Betz soon responded to a greater call for action outside on his Mississippi River bluff property.
He noticed headlights flashing and moving around outdoors, and soon Deputy Krystal Kramer from the Wright County Sheriff’s Department came knocking to verify Betz had access to the river.
The homeowner learned from Kramer that three adults and three children who had been tubing that day were stranded somewhere northwest along the south bank from Betz’s property. Through GPS technology, deputies identified his address as nearest to their location.
Betz led Kramer down to his narrow shore, and they called out for the tubers, making contact. Betz learned there would be a delay in getting a county watercraft to their spot, so he volunteered to paddle his 14-foot kayak upstream about 300 yards and get the people back to his property.
He got the nod, and on his first trip he loaded three children and their mother, all from Annandale, into his craft. They were barefoot and wearing little more than bathing suits, as he described, so he found them some blankets for wrapping themselves before going back up the river to get two remaining adults – including the children’s father – and two coolers they had carried. Once all of the rescued people were back at his property, Betz made a third and final trip to retrieve more gear including their inner tubes.
The group of six tubers had been with a larger group starting their day around 1 p.m. from a riverbank in Clearwater. Their planned destination was Montissippi Regional Park. From their starting point, the other tubers got about an hour or two ahead of the Annandale family on the river, and exited the water at Hasty, according to a sheriff’s report.
Based on cell phone records of a call connecting the Annandale mother with her mother, who lives in Monticello, deputies estimated the family had taken shelter beneath a tree for about three hours before their rescue. They weathered rain and lightning while waiting through their uncertainty. The Monticello Times contacted the mother from Annandale, but she declined to be interviewed for this story.
Betz has lived at his current home for 16 years, and said he has rarely lived anywhere else where he couldn’t walk to the river, having grown up in north Minneapolis and later living in Anoka and Champlin.
He noted that the Aug. 18 storm caused about 4 feet of fog to form from the surface of the river, so in the dark he had to improvise to know his route. “I just used the shadow of the tree line,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of years on this river.”
The current pushed Betz and his passengers back toward his land on each trip, and he said that it would have been more difficult to steer a loaded kayak upstream.
Betz said he has helped other tubing parties get to shore about once a year from his Monticello home.
“Usually it’s in the middle of the day,” he said. “This was the most extreme case.”
By Paul Rignell