Superior Police Department
November 8, 1980, while enjoying a routine morning patrol, Superior Police Officer Gary Gravesen came upon an accident near Belknap Shores in Superior. What he found was a car entirely submerged in St. Louis Bay. Just a glow of the taillights and part of the roof could be seen below the surface of the near freezing water. Officer Gravesen radioed for additional help. Answering the call was Superior Police Officer Richard Pukema. With the water at a near freezing 36 degrees and the air temperature at 32 degrees, something had to be done that no one there was properly prepared to do. The officers attached safety ropes to themselves and to two citizens who had also stopped to help. Officers Pukema, Gravesen, and the two helpers entered the water and climbed onto the top of the vehicle. The chilling effect of the water was immediately felt, as Officer Gravesen said, “…it was like being hit with a sledge hammer … all of the air was instantly sucked out of my lungs.” A window punch was used to break open the rear window. They were not able to reach the trapped man through this opening and this effort only resulted in both officers becoming submerged in the icy water. Officer Pukema then broke through the driver’s window and reaching deeply into the car got a slight hold of the trapped man. Eugene Rasmussen was pulled through the window to the water’s surface. Unconscious and appearing lifeless, Mr. Rasmussen was brought to the roof of his car where CPR was started. This proved very difficult, so a safety rope was quickly secured around Mr. Rasmussen. Officer Pukema, suffering from hypothermia himself, put his nearly frozen arms around Mr. Rasmussen and they were both pulled to shore. Now put into the hands of Douglas County Paramedics, it was verified that Mr. Rasmussen was clinically dead. CPR and other rescue efforts continued while he was transported to a nearby hospital.
Due in part to a miracle, but mostly through the selfless and heroic actions of Officers Pukema, Gravesen, and two citizens, Eugene Rasmussen not only survived, but also went on to recover from his ordeal in the waters off Lake Superior.