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Kayaker saves child on St. Louis River

Video of the incident went viral on social media, reaching over 11 million views.

A young boy clinging to the side of a kayak
A boy is seen clinging to the side of a kayak in the St. Louis River in this screenshot taken from an Instagram video by David Jones Jr.
Screenshot
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DULUTH — David Jones Jr., an avid outdoorsman with a following under the social media handle DJonesoutdoors , intended for weeks to fish the St. Louis River in his kayak.

He didn’t know if it was the fishing conditions or his gut, but something was telling him to go.

As he put in his kayak at the Boy Scout Landing off the St. Louis River on July 5, he noticed there was a child swimming toward the main channel alongside a sailboat.

His level of concern rose after watching the boy’s father pull the anchor and vanish around a bend.

“I just continued fishing and that’s when I heard the scream,” he said.

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Jones then bit off his line and barreled toward the child.

His knowledge of outdoor safety, combined with his experience in law enforcement and as a behavioral technician at Essentia Health equipped Jones with the tools needed to de-escalate the situation. Jones is a Northland Outdoors contributor for Forum Communications Company.

“He was telling me he was extremely cold, his face was a little bit blue. It was scary to watch, I am still trying to process the entire thing,” said Jones about first approaching the boy.

While simultaneously paddling the kayak and balancing the boy — who was hanging off the side — Jones was able to calm him down and safely bring him back to shore.

Emergency medical services and the Duluth Police Department arrived at the landing at approximately 4:12 p.m. in response to a call about a 6-year-old boy who had been struggling against the frigid current for a long period of time.

They were able to clear the boy of any hypothermia-related symptoms.

According to Jones, the boy struggled against the current while floating “over 300 to 400 yards” down from his dad, who was in a sailboat around the braided river and out of sight.

Nine days later, a police department news release noted the cause of the incident:

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“The boy wanted to swim next to the sailboat holding a rope that was attached to the boat. At some point, the boy lost hold of the rope and the wind pushed the sailboat further away from the boy.” Authorities did not name either the boy or the father.

Mason Smith was fishing on the dock and watched the entirety of the incident.

“There was no rope,” he said.

Jones also said there was no rope.

Both Jones and Smith describe the “rope” mentioned by police as the anchor.

Jones had a GoPro camera recording the entire situation. He wishes police would have taken a closer look at the video .

After releasing the video on his Instagram page, it went viral.

Between Instagram and TikTok alone, portions of the nine-minute video have reached over 11 million views.

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“It was just surreal. I don't know why I had the feeling I wanted to fish the river on that specific day. I did. It kind of traumatized me a little bit, because when I went fishing a few days later — I was expecting to hear the scream.”

Jones didn't tell his own two children, ages 2 and 5, about the situation.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 6-year-old look me in the eye and be genuine and say, ‘I am happy I survived.’ That was one of the tougher things to hear,” said Jones.

Jones wasn’t able to follow up with the boy after the incident; however, he urges witnesses to report what happened to the Initial Intervention Unit.

Peyton Haug is a former intern reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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