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Pickup plunges into Little Pine Lake

Four local men and women narrowly escaped an icy fate after their 1985 Dodge pickup broke through the ice on Little Pine Lake.

The group was on a fishing trip, driving across the lake, when their truck fell through the ice early on Friday morning, March 21. The incident occurred in the middle of the lake, about a half-mile from shore.

Stanley Malikowski has been identified as the driver of the vehicle. The names of the other individuals in the vehicle have not been released, but they are all from the rural Perham-Frazee area.

"Where they went through, there was about four inches of ice and the front end of the vehicle went through the ice," said Chris Vinton, a conservation officer with the Department of Natural Resources.

They were unable to open the doors of the pickup, so the men and women exited through the windows. As is often the case, the vehicle did not immediately sink to the bottom of the lake. As the pickup began to slowly submerge, there was enough time for the occupants to escape.

"They were able to crawl out of the windows," Vinton explained. "They told me that when they crawled out, they were right level with the ice." The men and women then managed to crawl to safety on their stomachs.

Vinton says that the group did exactly what they were supposed to do in such a situation. "If you go through the ice, you should roll away from the hole in the direction you came from. This helps you spread out your weight," he advised.

The ice was reported to be just three to four inches thick where the truck fell into the lake. Vinton said that the area of thin ice where the pickup fell through was about the size of a building.

He doesn't believe this thin patch of ice was created by the warming weather, but likely by other factors such as fish activity and the current of the Otter Tail River which runs through Little Pine Lake. Ice on most area lakes is currently 30 to 40 inches thick.

With the pickup submerged an estimated 50 feet below the surface of the water, the next problem was figuring out how to remove the vehicle within the 30 days allowed by law.

Although there are no fines or penalties for a vehicle or snowmobile going through the ice, there is a requirement that it be reported within 24 hours of the incident. Drivers are also responsible for paying for the recovery of the vehicle or snowmobile from the lake.

Vinton said there is an outfit out of Detroit Lakes that handles the removal of submerged vehicles. In cases like the submerged pickup in Little Pine Lake, a trailer with a rail system is brought out onto a solid section of the ice. Air bags are attached to the pickup to help bring it to the surface. The vehicle is then lifted straight up out of the ice.

According to Vinton, the pickup driven by Malikowski was removed from Little Pine Lake on Sunday, March 23.

"If a vehicle goes through the ice and the person isn't willing to remove it, the DNR will go get it," explained Vinton. However, he was quick to add that the cost for this type of recovery is much more expensive for the party responsible. "The state law allows us to charge up to five times the amount it costs the DNR to get it out."

There are no set dates in Minnesota for when drivers are no longer allowed to take their vehicles out onto the ice. "We leave it up to people. When they're driving out on the lake, they're assuming that risk," warns Vinton. "I always say 'ice is never safe.'"