2 in critical condition after car falls into lake

  • Article by: KEVIN DUCHSCHERE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 2, 2013 - 10:15 PM

The adults were unconscious when rescued; their vehicle went through the ice in a Lake Minnetonka channel under Hwy. 101.

A man in his 30s and an elderly woman were in critical condition late Saturday after their vehicle plunged through the ice of a channel on Lake Minnetonka, the 14th such accident on the lake this winter.

The two were unconscious and not breathing when pulled from their submerged red 2006 Pontiac Grand Prix, a little less than an hour after dispatchers received a 911 call from the male driver's cellphone, said Maj. Darrell Huggett of the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.

That frantic call came in at 2:24 p.m., after the car sank into the 10-foot-deep channel separating Gray's Bay from Wayzata Bay below the Hwy. 101 bridge. Officers arrived within five or six minutes, Huggett said, and two teams of divers and an airboat were deployed.

A diver rescued the man, who was moved to the nearby public access parking lot and flown by helicopter to Hennepin County Medical Center. The woman was rescued a short time later and taken to HCMC by ambulance.

The names of the victims, who are from the Twin Cities, were not released Saturday. Huggett said they are related but did not say how.

About two dozen officers responded from Hennepin County, Minnetonka and Wayzata departments, some wearing Mustang flotation suits that protect against hypothermia.

Huggett expressed dismay that, despite repeated warnings, billboards and signs, people continue to drive on the ice -- especially on channels, where water moves and the ice is thinner.

"This has been a common theme this winter," Huggett said. "The ice is not safe this year" because of the frequent fluctuations between cold and mild weather.

Officials say it is extremely dangerous to drive or walk on Minnetonka's channels and pressure ridges. On any lake ice, they say that people on foot, on snowmobiles, or all-terrain vehicles should use such precautions as life jackets.

People and vehicles could be seen Saturday in other areas of Gray's Bay, where snow covered most of the bay except for the open water under the bridge.

Last February, Hennepin County banned cars, trucks and SUVs from all its lakes and bodies of water after several vehicles went under. But Huggett said there are no plans now to keep people off the ice.

"It's very frustrating for us," he said. "We feel like we've done a tremendous job of getting the [safety] message out."

The incident followed the death of an 8-month-old girl last month when her family's sport-utility vehicle plunged through a Lake Minnetonka channel between Priest and Halstead bays. Tabitha Markle's mother, father and 2-year-old sister survived, but the baby, who had been underwater for more than 15 minutes when divers reached her, died at a hospital three days later.

Saturday's accident occurred on Minnetonka's eastern end, while the Markles went under on the western end of the large lake.

Staff writer Kelly Smith contributed to this report. Kevin Duchschere • 651-925-5035

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