“Watch out! You’re on thin ice!”
That stern advice to someone indulging in risky behavior is too often literally true – especially right here in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”
I wince and cringe every time I see somebody on the ice of lakes and rivers, especially in early winter. As a reporter, I have covered all too many ice break-throughs (thankfully none of them fatal) during the past four decades, especially during my years as a reporter in the Alexandria area, where lakes abound.
One day, my editor there asked me to write a thin-ice warning story for the newspaper. I thought to myself, “Oh, not another ice-warning story. Why write them? Apparently, nobody reads them anyway. People just keep falling through.” I did some research, interviewed the county sheriff, wrote the story.
Two days later, I got a call from a woman who wanted to thank me.
“For what?” I asked.
“For the story you wrote on the front page of the Echo Press.”
She explained: She and two of her young kids were preparing to go for a lake-ice ride on an ATV. They bundled up. Walking through the kitchen, she saw a copy of the newspaper on the table and its front-page headline practically shouting, “Beware of thin ice!” She read the opening paragraphs. Then she told her disappointed kids, sorry, no ride today. Later that same day, someone (a snowmobiler, if I recall correctly) had caved through the ice on that lake and was thankfully rescued. That’s when the woman decided to give me a call.
Suddenly, I was glad I’d written it, happy to know at least one reader – that woman – had read and heeded a thin-ice story. It may well have saved their lives. I told her how I’d been reluctant to write it, figuring it would go unread.
“Well, I did read it,” she said. “So keep writing them!”
As of Jan. 1, there were two ice-related fatalities in Minnesota. The latest, on Dec. 28, took the life of a 60-year-old Brooklyn Park woman, Rose Peterson, who was riding on an ATV with her husband and daughter on Kabekona Lake in Hubbard County. They survived. Sadly, she did not.
Most people do manage to survive ice break-throughs, but plunging into a cold lake (or river) is a frantic, terrifying ordeal. Some years ago, I wrote a story about a man who was rescued after caving through the ice on Little Rock Lake near Rice.
There have been two ice break-through fatalities on that lake, near which I live – a car cave-through in 1980, a snowmobile plunge-through in 1993.
The man who nearly died described to me the flailing panic he’d lived through. After a long struggle and much yelling, he had lost consciousness and slipped way down into ice-cold water. Rescuers pulled him out; he recovered in the hospital.
During the interview, I could hear the chilling fear in his voice as he recalled the incident. He’d thought for sure he was a goner. Several times during our conversation, he emphasized how he’d learned his lesson and never again would he venture onto a lake in winter – not until he first knows for certain how thick and safe the ice is.
According to the DNR, nearly 300 ice-related fatalities have occurred since 1976 in the state’s rivers and lakes. People should learn and share with others the following tips: Do not walk onto any body of water unless you know for sure there is at least four inches of new, clear ice on the surface. For ATVs, the thickness should be five inches; for cars and small pickups 8-12 inches and for medium-sized trucks 12-15 inches. Do not venture onto a lake unless you know its characteristics that cause thinner patches of ice. Wear life jackets.
Last but not least, like that wise woman near Alexandria, pay attention to thin-ice warnings in local media. Then heed those warnings.