Chippewa Flowage

A 20-year-old man from Arlington, Virginia, was being reported missing from his island campsite on Thursday, July 4, and apparently drowned in the Chippewa Flowage, 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, said Sheriff Douglas Mrotek.

The sheriff’s communications center received a 911 call at 12:08 a.m. July 4 reporting that Backstrom was missing on the Chippewa Flowage. The caller reported that he 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 Backstrom on the shore, a campsite with a tent, and personal belongings including his cell phone. Backstrom 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 Department of Natural Resources using 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. on July 4, but Backstrom was not located. Search efforts were then suspended.

Search efforts resumed at 9 a.m. July 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. Backstrom 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.

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