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Indiana man wearing life jacket dies on Tuscarora Lake in BWCA

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. WTIP file photo
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. WTIP file photo

The man who died on Tuscarora Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness this week was wearing a lifejacket at the time of his death, according to Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen.

William (Billy) James Cameron, 29, from Nobelsville, Ind., died May 20 in the BWCA after his group’s canoe capsized on Tuscarora Lake, located approximately 50 miles up the Gunflint Trail.

The Cook County Sheriff’s Office reports three people were in the canoe at the time of the incident. Two of the people swam to an island, while Cameron was reported missing.

A U.S. Forest Service float plane was called in to assist with search and rescue operations. Cameron’s body was found a short time later floating in the water.

Ice has only recently come off a collection of lakes in the BWCA. With that in mind, water temperatures are dangerously cold on all BWCA lakes at this time heading into Memorial Day weekend. Though Cameron was wearing his life jacket, according to the World Health Organization, in 10 to 20 percent of the cases, people who are submerged in cold water, instead of gasping, experience a spasm which can occur if the trachea below the vocal cords detects entry of water, resulting in an uncontrolled, or involuntary muscular contraction which impacts one's ability to breathe. This is more commonly referred to as a ‘dry drowning.’ 

WTIP spoke May 22 with people who were close to Cameron. They told WTIP the official causes of death listed by the coroner are hypothermia and drowning.

Memorial Day weekend and the days preceding it are traditionally a busy time in the BWCA. According to the U.S. Forest Service, nearly all of the permits for the entire wilderness area are reserved for the upcoming weekend.