ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — On Christmas Day, Bob Hildebrandt saw his neighbor out fishing on Lake Ida in Douglas County and thought he’d go for a visit to see how the fish were biting.
He hopped on his Polaris Ranger side-by-side with plastic glass windows that were zipped in and headed out.
Hildebrandt, 94, has lived on Lake Ida for about 40 years, on the northwest side of the lake. Living on the lake as long as he has, he kept close to the shoreline. He said there wasn’t much snow and the ice looked like it was solid.
Hildebrandt didn’t make it to see his neighbor as before long, his machine, with him in it, cracked through the ice and went down into the frigid water that he estimates was 5- or 6-feet deep.
“I went about 30 feet,” Hildebrandt said. “And then it went in so damn fast. If I had gone another 10 feet, I probably wouldn’t have made it because it would have been over my head.”
Hildebrandt didn’t have a cellphone with him. In fact, he said he doesn’t own one because he’s “too old.”
Despite trying to push the doors open, Hildebrandt said he couldn’t and that he was trapped inside.
He did manage to get one of the windows unzipped, he said.
“I got my head out and started hollering,” Hildebrandt said. “I hollered and hollered.”
He estimated he was in the water for about 30 minutes. Hildebrandt said he started to lose all his strength and that he just couldn’t seem to get his body to do what he wanted it to do.
Eventually he heard some snowmobiles and was able to get their attention. The couple, his neighbors, Steve and Vennie Wall, were able to throw him a rope and get him out of the water. Vennie then gave him a ride home.
“I headed right for the shower,” he said, adding how thankful he was for the couple who found him.
After a long, hot shower, as well as being checked out by emergency personnel that responded after receiving a call about an ATV through the ice, Hildebrandt said he felt much better and much warmer.
Although it was the first time Hildebrandt ended up going in the icy waters, it wasn’t the first time a piece of his machinery went through the ice.
In April 2017, on a quest to find a good fishing hole, Hildebrandt said his four-wheeler went through the ice, but he wasn’t on it.
He went to check an area that had been pretty busy over the weekend. He parked his four-wheeler, got off and was fishing when he heard a noise, he said.
“It was like the sound ice makes in a cocktail glass and then all of a sudden, whoosh, there goes my four-wheeler. Holy cow!” he said.
Apparently his wife, LaVonne, saw it go down as she was watching out their window at home. However, she couldn’t see him anywhere and ended up calling 911. Fortunately, a rescue wasn't needed.
And he said he hopes it won’t be needed again.