Minn. driver learns a lesson: Lake ice is never completely safe
BREEZY POINT, Minn. -- A motorist found out the hard way Monday night that no ice is safe.
Ben Olmscheid of Breezy Point was driving his full-size Ford pickup on the ice in the channel of Halverson Bay, on the north end of Pelican Lake in Pelican Township near Breezy Point, when the ice gave way and the truck dropped into the water. Olmscheid and a passenger in the truck escaped uninjured through the sunroof of the truck. Olmscheid called his father's friend, who was fishing on Pelican Lake at the time, to come help them.
Turner Towing of Nisswa successfully pulled the truck out of the water Tuesday afternoon.
Lt. Scott Goddard of the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office said no ice is ever safe. Ice conditions are unknown, even if the lakes area is experiencing a nice, cold Minnesota winter. There are several variables that come into play when looking at ice thickness. Strength is based on depth of water under the ice, size of the water body, water chemistry and currents, the distribution of the load on the ice and local climatic conditions, the DNR reports.
Goddard said the channel on Pelican Lake near Stewart's Bay Drive — where the red Ford went into the lake — is locally known to be a bad spot for having thin ice and is heavily used, especially by snowmobilers. The water is shallow — about 18 inches to 4-feet of water — so if a motorist takes a risk and drives on the ice, it is not as dangerous, Goddard said.
"There are usually a few each season who go through the ice here," Goddard said. "Some are able to drive out easily and some don't.
"Ice conditions can be questionable even if there are designated tracks. The thickness of the ice can change from day to day because you never know what's going on. One day it will be good ice and the next day or even a few hours later it's not because of an ice heave that caused a weak spot."
Goddard said there are a great number of lakes in Crow Wing County and the surrounding counties that are spring fed, meaning the lakes receive some groundwater. Goddard said this can lead to sporadic action to where the ice can be good one day and bad the next.
Goddard said the bays near The Wharf on Cross Lake and Rush Lake are other areas in the county where the ice can be sketchy because of ice heaves. Goddard said the larger lakes are where people need to be aware of more ice heaves, such as on Mille Lacs Lake, the Whitefish Chain and Gull Lake.
The sheriff's office Friday approved the permit needed for the 27th annual Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Contest Hole-in-the-Day Bay, where they took three measurements with 20 inches of ice. Goddard said there is enough ice for the contest, but the sheriff's office would like contest participants to use the provided transportation to get into the contest area. There is free parking available at Brainerd International Raceway, north of Brainerd off Highway 371 and at the old Nisswa Flea Market off Highway 371 in Nisswa.
"We'd like to keep the traffic off the lake," Goddard said. "It makes it so much easier on every avenue. ... Having less vehicles on the lake is better."
Goddard said if a person plans to venture out on lakes, they should always let someone know where they are going. A person also should ask the experts in area on the ice/lake conditions, which can be staff at convenient stores in the area or the people going out on the lake. Goddard said people also should be prepared, in case they do go through the ice or are stuck somewhere.
"Make sure you have the needed supplies to be out there," Goddard said.
According to the DNR, a person cannot judge the strength of ice just by its appearance, age, thickness, temperature or whether it is covered with snow or not. The DNR's recommended minimum ice thickness guidelines for new clear ice are 2 inches or less, stay off; 4 inches for ice fishing; 5 inches for snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles; 8-10 inches of a car or small pickup; and 12-15 inches for a medium truck.
• You can't judge ice conditions by appearance or thickness—other factors including water depth, size of waterbody, currents, snow cover, and local weather all combine to determine its strength.
• Ice seldom freezes uniformly—it may be 9 inches thick in one location and only an inch or 2 just a few feet away.
• Ice formed over flowing water and currents is often dangerous — ice along streams, springs, and channels between lakes, bridges or aeration systems is usually weaker due to faster current.