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When Cars Go Through Ice, Recovery’s Costly, Dangerous

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(credit: CBS) Rachel Slavik
Rachel Slavik joined the WCCO team in October of 2010 and is thrill...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Several days of sub-zero temperatures this winter weren’t enough to keep dozens of vehicles from breaking through the ice on the state’s lakes and rivers.

More than 30 cars, trucks, ATVs, and snowmobiles have fallen through in the ten-county metro area.

Once the driver is safe, it’s their responsibility to get that vehicle out of the water.

Like most Minnesotans, Rich Lowery has the equipment to survive a snowy winter. With a plow hooked to his ATV, he can clear a path through the snow in minutes.

Back in January, the plow seemed the obvious choice when he wanted to plow a skating rink on the lake in front of his home.

“I was coming across the lake to bring it in front of our house,” Lowery said.

Just 30 feet from shore, Lowery felt his four-wheeler break through.

“Right over the ridge, it just went straight down,” he said.

Rich became one of the dozens who lose their vehicle every winter to thin ice.

“When it first happened, I figured it’s gone. I didn’t even know they actually pulled them out, or they had a way of pulling them out,” he said.

Removal is not easy, and drivers turn to tow and salvage companies to retrieve their vehicle. John Grindeland, operations manager at Twin Cities Transport and Recovery, says each time a vehicle goes through the ice, the recovery process differs.

In shallower water, crews can put down ramps and use tow ropes to bring up a car in a matter of minutes. But the key to recovery always depends on the ice.

“You definitely need good ice because if you’re going to be stationary on there, you need it to be plenty thick to pull it straight up,” Grindeland said.

John’s crews always consider safety when bringing out heavy equipment to recover a vehicle. Deep water can be the most challenging, making removal a much more involved process.

Sometimes a car will flip on its roof when it sinks, and it can even get stuck in the ice. The more difficult the recovery, the more expensive; removal can cost thousands.

“Typically if a diver’s involved, it can be a little involved because they have to find it, located it. It’s black underneath the water. The security and safety is heightened immensely,” he said.

For Rich, it was a costly lesson that will keep him on solid ground next winter.

“I won’t be going back out on the ice on this,” Lowery said.

State law says a driver has 30 days to have the vehicle removed from the water. If a government agency has to get the vehicle out, it’s a misdemeanor. They can also charge up to five times the cost of a typical recovery fee.

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