By Crystal Thompson
Two Havre men nearly drowned when their canoe went over the weir on the Milk River north of town Memorial Day weekend.
"They're lucky to be alive," water plant superintendent Jeff Jensen said today.
Leonard Shaw and Justin Magnussen set out for what they thought would be a pleasant float down the river on May 26. The men ended up taking the ride of their lives as their canoe plummeted over the weir and tore in half. The weir collects and diverts water to Havre's water treatment plant.
"I was just trying to keep my head above water," Shaw said, "I saw Justin standing on what I thought was a rock."
Magnussen was actually standing on one of the weir's cement pillars, which are used to slow the flow of water as it comes over the dam.
"Then my foot hit one," Shaw said.
The men used the pillars to steady themselves and get above the rush of the river and back to the shore, while their packs and the pieces of the canoe moved downstream.
Shaw is a distant cousin of two men who drowned in the 1980s when their canoe went over the weir. He said he'd heard the story about their deaths, but wasn't sure exactly what the weir was.
"I was just thinking it was an obstruction, something that you could see and go around," he said, "I didn't know there was an eight-foot waterfall drop."
Shaw said that he noticed signs that said "no boating, no swimming, no fishing" but was not aware they were approaching the weir.
"The next thing I knew, we were going over it," he said.
He said he doesn't think there is adequate warning of the danger the weir poses.
"It's very dangerous, ... it's life-threatening," he said.
Shaw said he's concerned that out-of-state hunters or tourists who decide to float the river may run into the same troubles he and his companion did.
"They have all these canoe launches out there and no signs to warn people," he said.
Jeff Jensen, superintendent of the city water plant, said this morning he was unaware of the incident.
Jensen said two new signs were put up last year on either side of the river, about a quarter mile upriver from the weir, that warn boaters of danger.
He said floaters should be aware of what lies ahead before they choose to take their canoes down a river.
Another sign near the Fresno dam warns floaters about the weir and dangerous undertows.