A woman and three of her friends got on their inner tubes, floated away from the sandy shores of Rapidan Dam Park and started what was going to be a lazy trip down the Blue Earth River on a warm May afternoon.
They didn’t make it far. For some reason, as the tubes rounded a hard bend along a rocky cliff, 21-year-old Jenny Mae Kraling of Mankato went into the water. Her lifeless body was pulled from the river, not far from where she went in, four hours later.
Mike Dombroske was fishing from shore and watched as one of Kraling’s friends became more frantic as he attempted to help her from the water. Dombroske didn’t know if she had purposely dropped in for a swim or if she had slipped from her tube. Her two other friends, also males, had already rounded the bend by the time Dombroske called for help at about 3 p.m.
“I thought she was horsing around,” he said. “I almost ran up to call earlier, but then she came up again. He kept hollering at her telling her to quit fooling around.”
The man attempting to help Kraling was standing on a rocky area below the cliff when Jim Hruska, owner of the Rapidan Dam Store, came down the river with a canoe to help. There is a deep spot, known as Davis Hole, right at the turn where Kraling went in. The three men who were with her were not named by the Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Department.
“He was in shock,” said Hruska, who has gotten to know the river well since he purchased the store in 1972. “He said she slipped in and he couldn’t get her. I was watching him because I was worried he might jump in and try to find her.”
That man and his two friends were eventually brought back to the park’s shore as the search continued. They watched, mostly from a distance, hoping Kraling had somehow made it to shore and was waiting for help.
Several boats from sheriff’s departments in Blue Earth, Brown and Le Sueur counties, and the Department of Natural Resources, were dropped in downstream at Mankato businessman Curt Fisher’s riverside home. Volunteers from the Lake Crystal Fire Department helped man the boats. Fisher also knows the river and assisted with his own fishing boat.
Workers at the Rapidan Dam also helped out by stopping the water flow through the dam. The water dropped three or four feet during the four-hour search, but it was reaching the top of the dam on the other side before the search was over. The workers said they would let the water through slowly if it reached the top.
Some rescuers worked their way up river from Fisher’s house. They checked the shore, the rapids and fallen trees hoping to find Kraling alive. Several other people, including Hruska, focused on Davis Hole. When the river flow is high, water quickly turns back when it hits the turn and creates a swirl above the hole, he said.
Hruska remembers one other drowning near the park, which used to be a private campground, since the early 1970s. That victim, a Lake Crystal man, was eventually found in the same hole, he said.
By the time divers arrived at the scene and were prepared to go into the water, the man from the rocks and another man who arrived later, found a sandbar directly across from the river’s hard turn. They watched as air from a single scuba diver started surfacing at about 6:45 p.m. The air bubbled above the 20-foot hole Hruska and others had been focusing on.
Less than a half hour later, that diver pulled Kraling’s body up to the rocky spot where her friend had been standing, begging her to come back from below, a few hours earlier.
A long sickening wail echoed off the cliff above.