It was near closing time at a riverside bar just outside of Cloquet, Minn., when police finishing up a call heard someone yell for help from the middle of the swiftly flowing river.

A 34-year-old local man was grasping a sheet of ice, struggling to hold on and stay afloat in the shallow, but frigid St. Louis River. Officers grabbed a canoe from a nearby campground and tossed rope lines and throw rings from the deck of a bridge, but the man slipped under in about 10 minutes.

"It was a difficult rescue," said Derek Randall, Cloquet's acting police chief. "Not only because of the ice conditions."

Many of the rescuers and bystanders who watched helplessly early Saturday morning knew the man, who was from Scanlon, about two hours northeast of the Twin Cities. He had yet to be identified as of Saturday afternoon.

That part of the river, which is just south of the Hwy. 61 bridge, is about 100 yards wide, between two dams and now flowing about 1,600 cubic feet per second.

It's unclear why the man went onto the ice on that section of the river, a popular spot for people to race ATVs and motorcycles when it's frozen over.

Minnesota Power reduced the flow on the upriver dam, and rescuers with specialized equipment found the body by sunrise Saturday about 40 feet downriver from where his calls were first heard.

"The officers were there from start to finish," said Randall. "To see someone who was helpless ... to see how this played out is rough."

Scanlon is a small town adjacent to Cloquet, and the kind of place where everyone knows one another.

"This just adds to the tragedy," said Randall. "This is going to be tough."

Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376