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Beware of hazardous areas on local lakes during the winter

As the ice continues to thicken, more anglers are using vehicles to travel atop area lakes. While many bodies of water in the region have 10 to 16 inches of ice, certain factors affect the ice's integrity.

Currents created by natural flowages or even schools of larger fish such as carp prevent ice from developing uniformly. If traveling by vehicle, a few inches of ice can mean the difference between staying on top of the ice or breaking through.

This was the case last Sunday on Leech Lake in Walker. A Rogers man, Bradley Erikson, 36, died after his truck broke through thin ice.

Erickson had been camping with a friend in the Sand Point area and was driving to the campsite when his truck broke through a channel between two bays.

According to the Cass County sheriff's office, Erikson swam across the channel and apparently tried to walk to the campsite. Deputies found him around 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning after a conservation officer spotted the partially submerged pickup. Erikson was pronounced dead at St. Joseph's Area Health Services in Park Rapids.

Tim Smalley of the Minnesota DNR said this is the first thin ice related death in the state this winter season. Last year at this time there were five reported deaths.

Incidents such as this are devastating to family, friends and communities. Although some cases involve rescue and result in survival, 53 people have died after falling through thin ice in Minnesota over the past 10 years.

In many cases, hypothermia from exposure is a fatal contributor.

"Water saps body temperature away 25 times faster than air of the same temperature. Then when you get out you get wind chill, you get just all the other factors that enter in to it and it doesn't take very long for (hypothermia) to kick in. Well under an hour," said Smalley.

The DNR recommends 8 to 12 inches for travel with a car or small truck and 12 to 15 inches for travel with a medium-sized truck. However, the recommendations are for new, clear ice and due to the early blanket of snow throughout much of the state this year, the top few inches don't fall into that category.

To remain safe on the ice, know the terrain. Anglers traveling on unfamiliar lakes should reference lake maps and talk to area experts, such as resort owners and bait shop personnel, to find out where springs, current and ice heaves may cause potential danger.

Only travel by vehicle if necessary, otherwise walk. If you do drive your vehicle on to the lake, be prepared to leave in a hurry. Keep your windows down, unbuckle seatbelts and discuss an evacuation plan with your passengers.

Respect "thin ice" signs and never attempt to forgo such warnings, even after weeks of extremely cold temperatures. However, don't rely upon thin ice or open water signs to dictate your travel, since some areas lack signage even though open water is evident.

Also, limit your ice travel after dark. Recognizing hazardous areas from behind the vehicle's headlights often occurs too late.

Finally, avoid alcohol. Its impact on judgment while driving can prove fatal both on and off the ice.

For more information on ice safety, contact the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and ask for their free ice safety publications, which include the brochures, "Danger, Thin Ice" and "Hypothermia the Cold Facts" by calling 888-646-6367 or e-mail the information center at