Campers Recount Montana Boat Crash, Rescue

By Beacon Staff

BIGFORK – The first people on the scene after a boat slammed into the rocks at Wayfarers State Park on Flathead Lake last month smelled gasoline, heard a woman screaming and spotted a man face down in the water.

Laura Godowski and her boyfriend, Ryder Juntunen, both of Helena, and her parents, Ken and Kay Godowski of Fort Collins, Colo., were walking back from a bathroom with flashlights when they heard a crashing, crunching noise about 10:20 p.m. on Aug. 27

“Somebody just ran their boat into the rocks!” Juntunen yelled. The four raced to the site and found U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, state Sen. Greg Barkus and three other people injured.

“Ryder jumped in the boat to shut if off, because he was afraid it might ignite the fuel we could smell,” Kay Godowski told the Missoulian for a story published Sunday. Then he called 911.

Laura Godowski went to the aid of the first victim she could see, Kristin Smith, deputy chief of staff to Rehberg.

“Kristin was sitting on the rocks screaming” and bleeding from injuries to her head, Kay Godowski said. “Laura took her shirt off, pressed it to Kristin’s head and told her to hold it tight.”

Laura’s father than gave her his shirt.

Juntunen spotted Kathy Barkus, wife of the state senator, on the floor of the boat. He and Kay Godowski helped her out of the boat and Godowski wrapped her in a sleeping bag.

In the meantime, Laura Godowski swung her light toward the lake and spotted two people in the water — one was face down.

Laura climbed into the lake and pulled Dustin Frost’s head and shoulders above water. Frost, director of Rehberg’s Montana offices, wheezed and took a big breath of air.

Ken Godowski and another camper helped Laura get Frost out of the lake.

“Dustin’s eyes were open when Laura rolled him over,” Kay Godowski said. “She told him help was coming. She told him to hold her hand, and he did, very tightly.”

Then Laura noticed Frost was bleeding form his left ear. His grip on her hand loosened.

“Then he shut his eyes,” Kay Godowski told the Missoulian, “and Laura thought, ‘Oh no.'”

Rehberg said he crawled out of the boat and dragged himself onto the shore. His ribs were cracked, his eye socket fractured and his left leg bone “sheared” just above his foot. Rehberg said the only thing holding the foot on was his cowboy boot.

Greg Barkus was also in the water, clinging to a rock.

“He was speaking,” Kay said. “We asked him if he was OK and he said, ‘No, no,’ but he was responding.”

Ken Godowski helped Barkus keep from slipping into the water, occasionally hoisting him up by his belt.

Kay Godowski estimated it took a minute and a half for the campers to run down the path to the shoreline after they heard the crash,

“I’d say it’s highly probable” that Frost wouldn’t have survived face-down in the water much longer, she said.

Emergency responders arrived and Frost was taken to a hospital by helicopter.

He remained in a coma for 10 days. He regained consciousness over Labor Day weekend has since been moved to a rehabilitation clinic in Missoula.

Rod Frost said his son is walking, talking and joking, has complete thoughts and can read but has some memory problems and some nerve damage on the left side of his face.

Smith suffered a broken nose, ribs, foot and wrist. The extent of Kathy Barkus’ injuries have not been released. Rehberg, Smith and Kathy Barkus were released from the hospital on Aug. 31 and Rehberg has since returned to Washington, D.C.

Greg Barkus underwent surgery in Seattle for a broken pelvis and is expected to be in a wheelchair for about two months.