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Update: 'Team effort' credited in ice rescue from Big Kandi Lake

Minnesota DNR courtesy photo

LAKE LILLIAN — Local emergency responders, law enforcement officers and dispatchers are being credited for rescuing a man Thursday morning after the ATV he was riding plunged through ice and into the frigid waters of Big Kandiyohi Lake.

"It was a total team effort," said Matt Erickson, Blomkest Fire Chief, who helped coordinate the rescue.

"It's what we train for and hope we never have to use," Erickson said.

The incident was reported at 7:19 a.m. Thursday when the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office received a call that an individual had gone through the ice about 200 yards from shore in the 7200 block of 147th Avenue Southeast.

At the scene, rescue personnel found William H. Wurtz, 49, of Hanska, holding onto the edge of the ice in a part of the lake that's about 8 to 10 feet deep. The tires of his ATV were also floating in the water, Erickson said.

An individual at the scene had been encouraging Wurtz to stay calm and hold on until rescue crews arrived with gear, said Erickson, adding that there could easily have been two victims if the other individual had tried to make the rescue by himself.

Erickson said three Blomkest firefighters pulled on the department's cold weather suits and walked out onto the ice as far as they could and then "basically crawled" the rest of the way to the open water towing a ladder and a rope.

Wurtz was "hanging on to the edge of the ice," and was conscious during the entire time, Erickson said. "He was calm but obviously cold."

After getting into the water they "boosted" Wurtz onto a ladder that was used to pull him onto firm ice.

Wurtz was transported to shore by sled and then taken by Life Link helicopter to the St. Cloud Hospital.

Erickson said the Blomkest Fire Department purchased three cold weather suits several years because the area has many popular fishing lakes.

"They paid for themselves today," he said.

Erickson had high praise for all the emergency crews that participated in the rescue, including the Blomkest Fire Department, Lake Lillian Ambulance, Willmar Ambulance, Blomkest First Responders, Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office and the dispatchers who handled the call and sent crews to the right location.

"It took everybody," Erickson said. "This morning it was a very good team effort."

In a news release, Kandiyohi County Sheriff Dan Hartog said people need to use caution when going onto ice-covered lakes and to keep in mind ice thickness can vary from location to location.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issued a statement Thursday advising anglers that ice conditions remain extremely variable — even on the same body of water.

The DNR said people on foot should stay off the ice until there's at least four inches of new, clear ice and they should check conditions at least every 150 feet whenever they're on the ice.

"No fish is worth the risk of going through thin ice," said DNR conservation officer Adam Block in a news release. "At this point, it is going to take several consecutive days of below-freezing temperatures before enough solid ice has formed to support foot traffic, and even longer before ATVs and snowmobiles should be on the ice."

Of the six ice fatalities in 2017, five occurred during the early ice season of late November and early December.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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