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DNR officer OK after ATV breaks through ice on Lake of the Woods

A conservation officer for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources escaped injury over the weekend after the ATV he was driving broke through thin ice on Lake of the Woods.

According to Lt. Pat Znajda, District 1 enforcement supervisor for the DNR, the officer, Ben Huener, was checking fishing activity near Springsteel north of Warroad, Minn., about 12:30 p.m. Saturday when the ATV broke through the ice and sank to the bottom of the lake in about 8 feet of water.

Znajda said Huener was able to swim to the edge of the ice and pull himself out of the water to safety with ice picks. Huener then used his radio to call a state highway trooper for a ride.

The ATV was recovered late Tuesday afternoon, Znajda said.

Ice conditions on the west side of Lake of the Woods remain dangerous after a series of cracks opened up during recent warm, windy weather. The cracks, which extend from the Springsteel area east and south to Swift Ditch, Rocky Point and Long Point, had open water as recently as late last week. In some areas, the open water was at least 100 yards wide.

Light snowfall covering the ice gave the illusion of safety, Znajda said, even in areas that only recently had refrozen. He said the incident illustrates how treacherous conditions really are on the west side of the lake.

"If it happens to us, it can happen to anybody," he said.

At the very least, Znajda said, anyone fishing the west side of the lake should check with area resorts or bait shops to get the latest conditions before venturing onto the ice.

"People should make sure they have somebody with them and know where they're going," Znajda said.

A call to Huener seeking comment wasn't immediately returned.