Survivor of BWCA canoe accident recounts deadly ordeal

Erik Grams says he and his brother Reis had been going to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) for more than 30 years.

But now the setting of so many happy memories is a source of sorrow.

"My brother was my best friend. He was my business partner. So I'm still going through the grieving process and there's a hole that can never be filled completely," said Grams.

Grams says he and Reis were in a canoe at his brother's favorite fishing spot, Curtain Falls near the Canadian border on May 18, when a canoe carrying two of their friends capsized near the top of the falls.

Grams says Kyle Sellers went over the 30 foot cascading drop, hanging onto his boat, while Jesse Haugen tried to swim to the Grams' canoe.

But as soon as he got there, the current pulled all three of them over the waterfall as well.

"This was basically kind of an impossible save attempt, but we weren't going to leave our brother stranded there on the falls," said Grams.

Grams says the next thing he remembers is being 10 feet underwater and swimming towards daylight, before being pulled under twice more, eventually making it to shore.

He heard Sellers on an island a bit downstream, but there were no signs of Haugen or his brother.

"It sounds strange, but I was almost grieving under the water and I knew how dire of a situation it was immediately," said Grams.

Grams says it was like Groundhog's Day for the next two weeks, hoping and praying for a miracle, until search crews found Haugen's body on Friday and Reis' on Monday.

But Grams says the families of both men are grateful to get the closure they desperately need.

"This isn't something that will ever go away, but we're going to do everything we can to bring positive light out of this situation. And I'm going to honor my brother and Jesse for the rest of my life, as best as I can. Every day. Every minute," said Grams.

Grams fractured his pelvis in 3 places during the ordeal, while Sellers suffered a broken leg. 

A GoFundMe has also been set up to help the families of both men who died.

Grams says both his brother and Haugen were dedicated to their families, churches and communities.

In fact, Grams says his brother was planning to go on a mission trip to Mexico this fall to build houses for the homeless.

Now Grams and his wife will go in Reis' place.