For firefighter Scott Kregness, it was one unusual rescue, and he derives much satisfaction from being able to release to the wild a bald eagle that flew into the boat he was towing last month.
“It's just something I've never felt,” Kregness told Eau Claire TV station WEAU on Wednesday. “Just the sheer power of the animal at that point, and then he jumped out of your arms, and watching him take flight again, what a satisfying feeling."
Kregness, of Tower, Minn., and his wife, Marilyn, were taking a shrink-wrapped rescue boat to the fire department in Breitung, Minn., when the bird crashed into it on I-94 across the Red Cedar River in Menomonie, Wis.
"We saw the eagle. … I thought he was going to actually hit the truck," Kregness said. "My wife looked and saw that we had a hole in the shrink wrapping, and you know, then it was like, OK, I don't see the bird, and we continued on."
Kregness said the driver behind him came up next to their vehicle, flashed his lights and waved to them to pull over at the next rest stop.
"He said the bird is still in the boat. We unzipped it and went down one side, went around the back side, and there he was between the engines in the back of the boat," Kregness said.
Patti Stangel, the founder of Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release in Colfax, Minn., took the bird to the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, which brought the eagle back to health. It had internal injuries and an eye hemorrhage.
"The eagle had hit the right spot [in the boat], and thank God he did because he would've been dead otherwise," Stangel said.
She said that April 25, the day of the accident, was bright and sunny. The glare from the shrink wrap might have blinded the bird.
Stangel helped organize the release in Menomonie. She said it was important that the eagle be freed there because it was an adult and could have a mate in the area.
Kregness, who was shown how to hold the eagle, made the release. He named it Stanley after the brand of the boat he was towing.
"It's a magnificent thing to see, and that's your payment for what you do, you know,” Stangel said. “You put a lot of effort into this to make sure they're healthy and go back to where they need to go.”