"The Boat and People Disappeared"

By: Mary Rinzel Email
By: Mary Rinzel Email

It's one of the worst feelings imaginable; watching someone die and not being able to do a thing to help. A man from Sparta experienced that horror, times four.

Mike Bakke held back tears Friday afternoon as he told us how the river quickly claimed four lives.

He says he didn't know Cha Kong Yang, his fiancé See Her, or Her's two young children, Amanda and Josh. But says after spending several hours fishing nearby, it's like losing members of his own family.

Bakke knows the danger that comes along with the beauty of the Mississippi River.

"I was a guide for a number of years," says Bakke.

Last Saturday, Bakke spent the afternoon fishing with a friend. They left the dock the same time that Cha Kong Yang motored his own boat onto the river. But, Yang’s boat didn't make it back.

"After 2 1/2 hours he picked up his anchor like they had their fishing limit and were going to pack up and go home."

Seconds later, Bakke realized the family was in trouble.

"They started drifting toward the dam and I saw the man frantically try to start his motor."

Just as frantically, Bakke and others tried to help.

"As I was headed their way, two boats raced past us. One man jumped on the dam and handed them a rope and then jumped back into his boat."

For a second or two, it looked like everything was going to be OK, but that quickly changed.

"The line went tight and instead of helping, the boat immediately went down. The boat went under and the boat and people disappeared. It happened really fast. For a second we just stared at each other."

Bakke said they called 911, but never saw any sign of the young family.

This week searchers pulled the bodies of Cha Kong Yang, See Her and Amanda Xiong from the river. They say they aren't giving up hope that they'll find Josh Xiong.

The chief deputy sheriff in Winona County says they'll continue combing the river over the weekend.

Bakke says drownings serve as a sad reminder of river safety. He says it's a good idea to never lift your anchor until you turn on your motor, stay away from dams if you’re having any sort of motor trouble and always, always wear your life jackets.

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