Mississippi River rescue

Boat rental employee recounts how he helped save a family

It was a family vacation that went terribly wrong.

Eleven people on a houseboat on the Mississippi River almost lost their lives when their boat was swept under a lock and dam.

It was the quick thinking of Mississippi River Rentals employee Marty Neumann that helped keep this accident from turning into a tragedy.

For Neumann, getting let go from his last job turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It meant he got a part-time gig as a handyman with the boat rental company just one week ago. If he hadn’t been on the boat with the family Monday night, the story may have had a very different ending.

Neumann had minutes to save lives.

“It all happened so quick,” said Neumann.

He and his coworker from Mississippi River Rentals were teaching a family of nine how to operate their rented houseboat. Neumann said his job was to “make sure that the customers were happy, they had everything they needed, the hot tub was heated up.”


But the houseboat had bigger problems than a chilly hot tub.

The boat was just north of Lock & Dam 7 in La Crescent when it lost power.

“Boat stalled out, we couldn’t get it back started,” said Neumann.

As the strong current pulled the boat toward the dam, his coworker jumped onto a nearby concrete ledge to try to tie the boat off.

Neumann got the family onboard into their life jackets and onto a small boat they were towing behind the houseboat, hoping to drive it away just in time.

But it was too late.

“Our tow vessel went underneath the houseboat, and then underneath the roller and came up upside-down on the other side,” said Neumann. “I remember coming up out of the water and seeing light and just thinking, ‘God, I’m going to live.'”

He turned his attention to the family. Half of them didn’t know how to swim.

But their life vests brought each one of them up to the surface, close to the capsized tow vehicle.

“And I pulled the little girl up because she was shaking, and panicking and in shock,” said Neumann.

A fisherman on a nearby dock rushed over in his pontoon boat and helped pull the family out of the current.

Neumann said he now has a real appreciation for the river’s power.

“I’ve always lived in La Crosse. I’ve been up and down the river and I know how dangerous this river can be. But, Jesus, it’s scary when it happens to you. You never quite think it’s going to happen to you,” he said.

News 8 also talked to the Wisconsin family who was onboard that houseboat. They are still very shaken up and said they’re not ready to talk on camera yet. They said their biggest concern right now is whether they’ll be able to get any of their belongings still on the boat. Since they were on vacation, they only have the clothes on their backs right now.

Life vests were crucial in saving lives last night. La Crescent Fire Chief John Meyer said it’s a good reminder for boaters to check whether they have enough onboard for each passenger. He said they should also make sure to have a fire extinguisher, a marine radio and flares in case of an emergency.