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Brothers sink 2 vehicles in 1 weekend in Otter Tail County lakes

Submitted photo Craig Swanson's F-150 truck sits in Otter Tail River, just off Little Pine Lake in Perham. Swanson sunk the vehicle on a Feb. 3 foggy night.

It was quite the weekend for the Craig and Brian Swanson brother duo.

In two days, the brothers did together what most ice fishermen spend their whole lives avoiding. They both sunk their vehicles.

The two-day car-sinking spree started Feb. 3. Craig was on the way to his icehouse on Little Pine Lake to help Brian set up for a weekend of father-son fishing.

After helping out, Craig took off in the fog, destination shoreline. His brother, who Craig initially thought was following him, took off with the direction of a GPS.

Only one made it back.

As Craig ventured into the fog, he quickly realized he was disoriented. This was confirmed when he drove straight in to the Otter Tail River.

The front end of his Ford F-150 pickup went in with a splash. Craig's first instinct was to roll down the window.

"I didn't know where I was," he said. "I didn't know if I was in 25 or 3 feet (of water)."

And then he started to sink. Somehow, Craig managed to get out of his truck. He took refuge on the vehicle's roof while he got his head around the severity of the situation.

He could tell at that point he was sitting in the river. He had a few options for escape: He could swim to the shore, or he could turn the other way and swim to solid ice.

Unable to see the road and worried about possible currents, Craig took off his shoes, jumped in the water and swam toward solid ice.

As Craig attempted to pull himself up, the ice broke from under his grip -- five times. His sixth try was a success. He rolled on to the ice, realizing that he had made it -- almost.

"I knew I was alive," he said.

While he had survived, he wasn't entirely in the clear - he was sopping wet in freezing temperatures. He made his way toward the road, where he saw two lights approaching. It was his brother, Brian, who zoomed by without seeing Craig on the side of the road. Fortunately, a friend following Brian did.

Having seen Craig earlier that evening, the driver was initially a little confused. With a sense of humor, Craig told him he had just been out for a swim and decided to follow it up with a jog.

Craig was given a lift to his house on Little Pine, where he called law enforcement to report that no search crew was needed; in the case someone reported the sinking vehicle.

The next morning, Craig went back out to the lake, where his truck was being taken out of the water under the care of Little Bear Towing.

As he watched his recently purchased vehicle return to solid ground, his phone rang. It was his brother.

"He said, 'I just put my car into the lake,'" Craig said.

Craig initially took the call as a joke. But when Brian persisted, he knew it was reality -- a very strange, twisted blend of reality.

Brian was safe and out of the sinking vehicle when he made the call. His shoes were on, and he wasn't suffering from near hypothermia. But his brand new Jeep Cherokee, still decorated with its 21-day permit, was done for.

From what the two could tell, Brian happened to drive over the one area on that portion of Little Pine that wasn't frozen through, possibly because of a spring.

In keeping with the weekend tradition, the brothers returned to Little Pine once again Sunday morning to watch Brian's vehicle being pulled from the lake, a feat accomplished by a Detroit Lakes towing company.

Both vehicles were beyond repair when taken from the lake.

Craig knows the severity of the situation he was in, but he still approaches the incident with humor.

While he didn't venture out that day on the ice to fish, he said he still managed to snag quite the catch.

"They found one perch in my pickup truck," he said.

All in all, not a total loss.