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'No fish worth dying for,' rescued angler says

BISMARCK--Joel Thune will wait until the ice is two feet thick before he ventures out ice fishing again. The 18-year-old college student says he has a newfound respect for the danger of ice after being stranded far from shore and being rescued in...

BISMARCK-Joel Thune will wait until the ice is two feet thick before he ventures out ice fishing again. The 18-year-old college student says he has a newfound respect for the danger of ice after being stranded far from shore and being rescued in the dark by an air boat belonging to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The dramatic rescue of Thune and his friend, Andrew Eckroth, 18, both Bismarck State College students, occurred at around 9 p.m. Tuesday at Round Lake near Pettibone in Kidder County. It appears a pressure ridge snapped off and sank, leaving a gap of open water between them and safety. The event caused state Game and Fish Department warden supervisor Mark Pollert to reiterate the annual warning that no ice should ever be considered truly safe, especially this year with unusually warm temperatures into December. "We're not telling anyone anything is safe at this point," Pollert said. That's a message Thune doesn't need to hear twice. "No fish is worth dying for," he said of the powerful take-away lesson. "They (rescuers) were truly a lifesaver. There's nothing to say but `Thank you,'" Thune said. He said he and Eckroth decided to head to Round Lake after hearing the evening walleye bite there was pretty good and that others had been on the ice Saturday with four-wheelers. Around 3 p.m., they walked out from shore, pulling a sled loaded with about 200 pounds of gear, including an ice house and heater, and augured into about 6.5 inches of ice. "We followed a four-wheel track out there so we figured we'd be fine," he said. They were enjoying the outing despite not catching anything, but, at about 5:30 or so, they heard a loud crack, followed by a splash. "It was about 36 degrees, but the splash was weird," he said. The pair packed up and started to make their way back. They'd forgotten to pack flashlights and their cellphone flashlights failed simultaneously, just as the ice beneath them started sounding ominous. They quickly retreated, reset the ice house and heater and sat inside to collect their thoughts. Because of low charge on their batteries, neither could get their cell phones going. "I prayed, I prayed really hard and then that's when my cell phone started working," Thune said. He called his dad, Dave Thune, and, after three tries, was able to talk to a 911 dispatcher. "We started waiting. The ice was cracking, and we were pretty scared," he said. He got a text message from the rescue crew that help was on its way, and, by then, his dad and an enforcement officer had reached the lake, within shouting distance of the boys. Eventually. they could hear the air boat and see its lights coming toward them. "Even when they were coming, we got pretty scared. The ice was loosening up, and it felt like the boat wake was waving up and down under our boots," he said. They jumped onto the sled, thinking that if the ice went, the sled might keep them out of the water long enough for the air boat to arrive. The boat, captained by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service warden Ben Cleghorn, accompanied by Stutsman County Sheriff's deputy Damian Hoyt and Game and Fish warden Greg Hastings, drove right up to the boys, quickly loaded them and their gear and headed back to shore, 100 or so yards distant. Thune said about 5 feet of open water partially surrounded where they were stranded, possibly the result of the pressure ridge breaking off. If he could have a do-over, he'd make sure he had a fully charged cellphone, flashlights and life vests in their gear. "It really makes you put things in perspective, to think that it could have been the last time I left the house. I feel strongly that if my cellphone hadn't worked, we wouldn't have left that lake," Thune said. Game and Fish enforcement chief Robert Timian said the young men were in a serious situation that thankfully turned out OK. "It's a critical warning that ice conditions can vary from lake to lake and even change during the day, depending on the weather. Anglers need to use extreme caution before venturing out on the ice right now," he said.

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