Local grad rescues four from Lake Superior
SCHROEDER -- A 1987 Worthington High School graduate is being called a hero in this small community in northeast Minnesota after rescuing four people from a capsized boat and the crashing waves of Lake Superior.
On Sept. 7, Capt. Darren Peck pulled into safe harbor shortly after noon with his 21-foot Bayliner following a fishing charter when a distress call sounded over his marine radio that a boat had capsized in rough water.
Peck had heard distress calls before and thought this one -- like the majority he hears -- was located somewhere in the Apostle Islands, some 35 miles across the lake. Seconds later, however, as the distress call sounded again, the U.S. Coast Guard announced the Lonestar was in trouble, and four people were in the water.
While fishing that morning, Peck saw the Lonestar charter and knew exactly where to find the vessel -- 3.5 miles down the shoreline from the safe harbor where he was docking. With a phone call to his wife to inquire about the local fire department's response, Peck radioed the Coast Guard in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and said he would respond to the scene.
Within 10 minutes, Peck found the capsized boat about one-half mile from the entrance to the Temperance River. Three men in orange lifejackets were sitting atop the bottom of the capsized boat. A fourth man, the Lonestar's captain, was on the opposite side of the boat, clinging on without a life preserver.
"I didn't know how long they'd been in the water," Peck said via telephone Wednesday afternoon. "I was worried that one person had drifted away from the boat."
In constant contact with the Coast Guard, Peck said he assessed the situation, learned of the captain's position on the side of the boat and realized his first task was to get a life preserver to the man.
"The waves were kind of crashing in on them, so I put a life jacket in my dip net, extended the handle across and got it to the captain," Peck said.
Dealing with three- to four-foot waves, he then attempted to get close enough to the men so they could reach his Bayliner and safety. Timing it with the waves, he brought the bow in and had about 20 seconds of steadiness -- long enough to get two of the men to safety. A third victim managed to float alongside Peck's charter boat and reach safety from a platform at the back end of the boat.
"When we went back for the last guy, I could tell he was getting nervous," Peck said. "He was the only one that wasn't in the boat."
A series of waves kept Peck at bay for several minutes until they lessened in intensity.
"Then, I could go right up on his boat," he said. "We actually bounced down on it, and (the captain) fell in the lake. The three other guys grabbed him and pulled him overboard."
By the time the last victim was rescued, Peck said the waves had grown to six- to eight feet high.
"Those waves are pretty darn big," he said. "That's a big wave, and we don't want to be out in it."
With the four men aboard, Peck headed back to safe harbor, where rescue personnel were waiting. All of the victims were checked for signs of hypothermia at the scene and released.
For his efforts, Peck recently received a letter of thanks from Cook County Sheriff Mark Falk. In the letter, Falk states, "Through your efforts, the lives of four men were saved and almost certain tragedy was averted." He thanked Peck for going "above and beyond the call of duty" and for putting the lives of others above his own.
"I'm just happy I could be there and everyone was safe," Peck said.
Peck left Worthington behind in the fall of 1987 to attend Vermillion Community College in Ely to study natural resources law. During an internship in Grand Marais, Peck said he fell in love with the lake and, after college graduation, moved to the Lake Superior shoreline.
There, Peck said he came across his neighbor's 21-foot boat that was no longer being used and borrowed it for the next seven years to practice. In 1998, he earned his captain's license from the U.S. Coast Guard and started his own business, Tofte Charters.
For the past nine years, he has chartered fishing excursions on the Great Lake, where his customers reel in salmon and lake trout. Since the business is seasonal, Peck also works as guest service manager for Bluefin Bay Resort.
Peck and his family, including wife Annalisa and children Jack, 5, and Kate, 20 months, don't get back to his hometown of Worthington -- especially since his parents, Darrold and Berneida Peck, moved to Lake Shetek after 30 years in Worthington.