SANTEE — Two brothers from Norfolk were among eight men rescued Thursday afternoon from the Missouri River by helicopter when the river froze up while they were duck hunting.
Eric Scranton, 33, and his brother, Mitch Scranton, 31, got on the water in one boat about 4 a.m. Thursday.
They were accompanied by Colby Kerber of Broken Bow, who originally is from Battle Creek, and Ben Micek of Omaha, who is a friend from college.
“The other (four) guys weren’t with us,” Eric Scranton said Friday morning. “They were just other hunters we saw in the morning. They were coming back.”
The other hunters, who also ended up being rescued, were Leigh Winterboer, Spencer, Iowa; Bill Lang, Huntington Beach, Calif.; Brad Rasmussen, Spencer, Iowa; and Matthew Cronk, Scottsdale, Ariz.
The Scrantons were told by the other hunters that the river was starting to get bad — that even the main channel was starting to freeze. As a result, both groups decided to head back up river together about 9:30 a.m.
Eric Scranton said they probably got up river about a mile and a half before there were such big chunks of ice that they couldn’t go any farther.
Both groups had boats with duck blinds, and the boats are designed to be able to break some ice.
Eric Scranton said he has been out duck hunting many times over the years and never saw it get this bad. When they left in the morning, there wasn’t any ice, but by the time they got stranded it was bunching up to a couple of feet thick.
Both groups of hunters left from the Santee boat dock.
“It started setting in a little at first, but I would never have imagined the main channel freezing like it did,” Eric Scranton said.
His hunting dog, Gaddy, was also on the boat and among those rescued.
South Dakota Game Fish and Parks had received a call for help at 11:30 a.m. Three Nebraska Game and Parks officers, Nebraska State Patrol Troop B officers in Norfolk, the Santee Police Department and Bloomfield Fire and Rescue responded.
The 18-foot flat-bottom boats were left in the river following the rescue.
Tom Zimmer, Game and Parks law enforcement supervisor for Northeast Nebraska, said sportsmen must take precautions outdoors in changing conditions.
“In cold weather conditions, be aware of your surroundings,” he said. “The river can ice up very quickly.”
The helicopter took the hunters up two at a time to bring them to shore about 2 p.m.
Eric Scranton said the Nebraska Game and Parks and the Army Corps of Engineers were trying to bust out the ice in the main channel at first, but they couldn’t get to where the boats were.
The hunters were prepared for the conditions and nobody received frost bite or injuries, he said.
It wasn’t that exciting, but mostly involved just waiting around to try and get through the ice or wait for help, Scranton said.