Steve Rand was walking with his two young daughters along the East Grand Forks side of the Red River shortly after noon Saturday when he saw three people running to the river's edge.
As East Grand Forks police officer Tony Reznicek raced to the river, trailed by wife Shannon and mother Peggy, Rand walked closer to see what was happening.
Two men had driven snowmobiles over the dam.
"I saw one guy pushing off a snowmobile ... and he walked through the water on the rocks (of the dam) to the shore," Rand said.
Reznicek was walking "over to the hole in the ice, where a guy was in the water, holding on to the edge of the ice."
Rand went onto the ice, too. His daughters stayed on shore, tending to the dogs Reznicek had been walking.
The snowmobiler, who is 36 and from Grand Forks, was "bobbing up and down," where the river's flow over the dam kept open water, Rand said. "He had one glove off and was holding on with just one hand. He said he couldn't feel his legs at all."
Reznicek and Rand looped the leash around the man, under his armpits, and with help from Peggy Reznicek, slowly pulled the man out.
"He is a big guy," Rand said. "He was very thankful."
Both men, traveling north on the Red River, hit the dam and were thrown from their snowmobiles. One machine remained on its side, skis jutting up, in rippling water and rocks on the downside of the dam. The other sank.
Ginger Rand, hearing the police sirens at their nearby home in East Grand Forks, came looking for her family and ended up helping warm the rescued snowmobile driver as emergency workers arrived.
"He said, 'My wife is going to kill me,' " Ginger Rand said.
A close call
It was a close call, and it's hard to believe the man could have lasted longer in the frigid water, Steve Rand said. "He said he couldn't move his legs at all. I don't know how he held on to the ice."
It took a while for the three rescuers to pull the man from the water. Once out, he removed his soaked clothing. He was placed inside a warming bag and carried up the river bank to a waiting ambulance.
Rand said he got a little wet during the rescue, but soon was chipping ice from his driveway in the warming sun.
"I don't even know how he was able to hang on," Rand said.
Shannon Reznicek helped the first snowmobiler after he walked through shallow water atop the dam to shore. That man, 23, also is from Grand Forks, according to East Grand Forks police.
The Polk County Sheriff's Office is leading the investigation into the accident. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources also has some jurisdiction over snowmobiling on rivers.
Snowmobilers experienced with running on the Red River say it's difficult to see the dam ahead from the level of the ice. But several large signs warn of the dam's approach.
The tracks in the snow told the tale today: both snowmobiles headed straight up to the dam before one, it appears, tried to swerve. That apparently led to the green Arctic Cat, still lying upended on the dam's downside after the accident.
Police from both cities responded, as well as firefighters and deputies from Polk and Grand Forks counties.
No helmets were recovered from the scene, police said; it's not known if the men were wearing them.