Ice season one of the deadliest ever

Associate Editor

St. Paul There are still several months of winter and ice season
remaining, but already, the number of ice-related fatalities in the
state has risen to seven, according to Tim Smalley, the DNR’s boat
and water safety specialist. All but three have been ice
anglers.

The latest victim was an 85-year-old Janesville man who died
after going through Clear Lake in Waseca while on foot. The body of
Reinhard Guse was recovered Dec. 28.

Delbert Hurley, 63, of rural Round Lake, died Christmas day when
his ATV went through the ice of Round Lake in southwestern
Minnesota. Two men from the Aitkin area drowned after their pickup
broke through the ice of Farm Island Lake on Dec. 20.

In late November, three Anoka boys died after falling through
the ice of a pond behind their home.

Last ice season, there were a total of five ice-related
drownings in the state. Dating back to 1976, the highest total came
during the 1979-80 season when 12 deaths occurred. There were 10
during the 1998-99 season.

According to the DNR, snowmobiles or ATVs have been the mode of
transportation over the ice in almost half the cases of ice
fatalities during the five year span, from 1997-98 to 2001-02.
Other motor vehicles in most cases, pickups accounted for about
one-fourth. Another quarter of those who broke through the ice were
on foot.

Aside from the deaths recorded already this year have been a
high number of close calls, specifically vehicles and people going
through the ice, but being returned to safety.

Just last week, Perham Conservation Officer Dennis Lang reported
an ATV, operated by an area man who had his son aboard, went
through the ice of Rush Lake. Lang said the man was able to get his
son out of the water and call for help. Two nearby anglers pulled
the man from the water.

It wasn’t the first instance of a vehicle going through the ice
of the west-central Minnesota lake. A few days earlier a snowmobile
and operator broke through. And the evening after the ATV plunged
through the ice, a pickup did the same. There were no fatalities in
those cases.

“That’s an area where people don’t remember an open spot,” Lang
said. “Nobody locally can figure it out there are problems where
there haven’t been problems before.”

The Perham area isn’t the only place vehicles and people have
had trouble staying above the ice. Smalley estimated based on
reports from conservation officers statewide that about 40 vehicles
or fish houses went through the ice during Christmas week. No area
was excluded.

“In Baudette, there were cars and ATVs going through, and that’s
about as far north as you can get,” he said.

Around the state that week, CO Phil Seefeldt of Moorhead said
three vehicles went through the ice of area lakes. Another went
through the ice of Lida Lake in Otter Tail County. An ATV dropped
through Pelican Lake’s ice near Glenwood, according to CO Kurt
Nelson.

In the Brainerd area, CO Jim Forbord, of Nisswa, reported,
“Numerous vehicles have reportedly gone through on Pelican Lake,
one on Middle Cullen, and two go-carts on Gull Lake.” Near
Faribault, a fish shelter fell through the ice of French Lake.

“Looking at the reports, there seems to be more cars, more
pickups, more ATVs, more snowmobiles, and more people on foot than
usual falling through the ice,” Smalley said. “And it’s highly
unusual for people on foot to be falling through the ice after
Christmas.”

For whatever reason, perhaps because of a freeze, followed by
rain, followed by moderate temps, ice depth has varied greatly this
year. Smalley said divers in Farm Island where two men earlier
perished noticed from beneath the ice the difference in thickness,
from 10 inches to spots nearby where they could manually punch a
hole.

“It’s weird ice this year,” Smalley said. “You need to check as
you go. It just hasn’t been cold enough, long enough, to make
decent ice.”

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