WATERVILLE — Days after doing his part to prevent even further tragedy on Lake Elysian, Chris Holthus remains conflicted.
The 27-year-old Janesville resident said he wishes he could have done more, but by the same token...
“I’m just glad I was on the lake that day to help. I feel sorry for the family that lost a kid — and happy I was able to help the other ones.”
Brady Hruska, 17, of Waterville, drowned after the duck-hunting boat he was in with four high school-age friends capsized in the frigid water.
Holthus on Wednesday recounted the events.
He said he and brother Dan were preparing to hunt ducks in the pitch black pre-dawn Saturday when they heard yelling from the other side of the lake.
Chris Holthus got into his boat and went toward the sounds. As he neared, so did another man in a boat who had heard the cries for help. Holthus said by the time they rounded into a bay where the yelling had come from, the sounds had stopped.
Moments later they came upon an overturned 12-foot flat-bottom boat. Holthus said two youths were clinging to it and two others appeared to be trying to swim to shore a few hundred yards away.
At that point, Holthus estimates they’d been in the water 25 minutes. Holthus moved to help the two clutching their boat while the other rescuer — Holthus didn’t get his name — went to the aid of the two others.
“I asked if they had everyone and they said no, so we started yelling for Brady,” Holthus said.
He said the youths told him Hruska had tried to use a decoy and a cooler as flotation devices before he went under the water.
Holthus said he had to struggle to pull the two teens into his boat, then struggled further to reposition them in the watercraft because the cold had severely hampered their mobility.
The four youths were taken to awaiting medical personnel on shore. Hruska’s body was recovered that afternoon.
The Waseca County Sheriff’s Office said Hruska wasn’t wearing a life vest, and Holthus said the two youths he rescued also were vestless. It’s not known whether life vests were aboard the boat.
State waterfowl hunting regulations require all watercraft to have readily accessible wearable flotation devices for everyone on board.
Also, the maximum weight capacity of the boat the boys were in appears to have been well exceeded, which also is prohibited under the state regulations.
Hruska’s father Eric said Wednesday the boys weren’t intending to hunt from the boat. Rather, they were enroute to an island, where they would set out decoys and hunt from shore.
Hruska said that at a Monday vigil for his son he chose to deliver some timely words to a large group of teens.
“Like I told the kids, ‘You’re not invincible. Live life to the fullest every day ... and be safe.’ ”