A 20-year-old man from Arlington, Virginia, drowned in the Chippewa Flowage after being reported missing from his island campsite Thursday, July 4, according to the Sawyer County Sheriff’s Department.
Following a two-day search, the missing man, identified as Gage James Backstrom, was found early Friday, July 5, floating in the water near Big Timber Island in the eastern part of the flowage, said Sheriff Douglas Mrotek.
The sheriff’s communications center received a 911 call at 12:08 a.m. July 4 reporting a missing adult male on the Chippewa Flowage. The caller reported that the male was camping on an island in the eastern part of the flowage.
Sawyer County deputies responded to the island and found a boat rented by the missing man on the shore, a campsite with a tent and personal belongings including the missing man’s cell phone. The man was not at the campsite.
Sawyer County Search & Rescue personnel with drones and fire department personnel with an airboat searched the island, other nearby islands and the water in the area. The Sawyer County dive team searched the water near the island, assisted by the Wisconsin DNR utilizing underwater equipment. LCO tribal game wardens, and Sawyer County Search & Rescue personnel with dogs assisted in the search. The combined search efforts continued until approximately 5:30 p.m. July 4, but the missing man was not located. Search efforts were then suspended.
Search efforts resumed at 9 a.m. March 5, including sheriff’s deputies, DNR wardens, LCO tribal wardens, St. Louis County (Minnesota) sheriff’s deputies, the Sawyer County dive team and search and rescue personnel. At 10:03 a.m. the missing man was found deceased, floating in the water near Big Timber Island. He was not wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) when located.
Sheriff Mrotek said Backstrom was vacationing in the area. Initial indications are that he was a drowning victim. An autopsy was performed and results are pending.
“The Sawyer County Sheriff’s Office reminds everyone to wear a PFD any time you are boating or participating in other on-the-water activities,” Mrotek said.