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Body recovered March 19, 2019 from Mississippi River near Hager City

VIDEO: Timing was key to ice rescue success

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John and Kandy Olson were walking at Long Point, also known as Sand Point, on Jan. 4, 2019, and took this photo of the Goodhue County Sheriff's airboat as it reached Douglas Berland who is still in the water. The airboat crew including Sgt. Scott Powers, Sgt. Jay Kindseth, and Deputy Jordan Winberg were able to rescue Berland, and he was airlifted to Mayo Clinic in Rochester. He suffered no serious injuries in the accident. Photo by John Olson2 / 12
Kandy Olson, who called 911 to report the incident, yells to Doug Berland to let him know help is on the way. "We were about 300 yards away and could see and hear the snowmobile," said John Olson, Kandy's husband. "Then it was quiet and you could barely see him on the surface of what ice there was." Photo by John Olson3 / 12
Douglas Berland from Stockholm holds onto his knife stabbed in the ice after falling through the ice near the channel marker off Long Point on Jan. 4, 2019. Photo by John Olson 4 / 12
An airboat owned by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources returns across the ice after the rescue on Jan. 4, 2018. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia5 / 12
Debris flies in the air as the Mayo One helicopter lands as part of the rescue of a snowmobiler who broke through the ice on Lake Pepin on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia6 / 12
Lake City firefighters and a Goodhue County Sheriff's deputy wait for Mayo One to land in the city park in Old Frontenac. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia7 / 12
Sgt. Scott Powers of the Goodhue County Sheriff's Office prepares the departments boat for a patrol of the river on Aug. 30, 2018. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia8 / 12
Emergency workers transfer Douglas Berland of Stockholm, Wis., from the Lake City ambulance to the Mayo One helicopter. Berland had plunged into the icy Mississippi River on Jan. 4, 2019. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimadia9 / 12
This airboat, stored in the Goodhue County Sheriff's Office warehouse, was put into action during a Jan. 4, 2019, rescue on Lake Pepin. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia10 / 12
With their work complete, the conservation officers with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources leave the scene of the rescue with their airboat. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia11 / 12
With Douglas Berland loaded safely inside, a Mayo One crew member prepares the helicopter for takeoff from the city park in Old Frontenac. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia12 / 12

Editor's note: A video and additional photos were added to this story Jan. 10, 2019, courtesy John and Kandy Olson.

The emergency caller last Friday afternoon said someone had fallen through the ice into Lake Pepin near Long Point.

The call sent Sgt. Scott Powers, a 34-year veteran of the Goodhue County Sheriff's Office, to the water patrol building and on "one of the most intense rescues I have responded to, knowing that we could be running out of time for a rescue," he said.

READ MORE: Travel on local ice prohibited

Time was the key. The first call came in at 2:02 p.m., and by 2:10, Powers, along with Sgt. Jay Kindseth and Deputy Jordan Winberg, had hitched the airboat trailer to their pickup and were en route to Frontenac.

With them was the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' airboat, which is stored at the water patrol building, operated by conservation officer Brittany Hauser and Lt. Tyler Quandt.

The two airboats arrived at Methodist Beach and were on the ice by 2:27. As they headed into the bay, the ice was breaking under the airboats.

READ MORE: Column: Next big step in bridge project is placing the girdersA quiet New Year's Eve for Pierce County law enforcement

"We train for this," Powers said. "We have driven through broken ice like that before, and the hulls of the airboats are protected with hard plastic, so we don't puncture the hull."

Throughout this time, Dispatch Supervisor Dee Holm and dispatchers Jennifer Luhman and Leslie Schoenfelder were in contact with two callers. The first was a hiker near Long Point, also known as Sand Point, and the second was a fisherman near Methodist Beach.

The dispatchers talked to the callers and relayed information to the rescuers in the airboats.

"Dispatch did a great job relaying the witness information and keeping responders updated on the victim and dispatching the resources to the scene," Powers said. "Dispatch was a key player in the rescue."

By 2:35, Powers, Winberg, and Kindseth reached the scene where Douglas Berland from Stockholm, Wis., riding his snowmobile alone, had plunged through the ice about 100 yards offshore from Long Point.

When the airboat arrived, Berland had been in the 34-degree water more than half an hour. He was holding on to a knife he had stabbed in the ice.

"We didn't want to break the ice because he was holding on," Powers said. "There was enough open water there that we were able to get the airboat up to him without breaking any more ice."

Windberg and Kinseth used a pole to hook Berland's coat and pull him to the boat where the three men pulled him on board, a difficult task because Berland was unable to help, and his clothing was weighed down with water.

"We got him on the boat and covered him up," Powers said. "We determined that he was breathing, but his core temperature must have been way down. He wasn't verbal to us. We let dispatch know we were heading back with him."

In the meantime, Hauser and Quandt on the DNR boat, had added two Lake City firemen, Clayton Brandt and Matthew Herzig. They were dispatched to a site near Long Point where a Goodhue County deputy had walked into open water, trying to reach Berland, but the water became too deep. The crew on the DNR boat assisted him out of the water, and he was not injured.

Powers drove the sheriff's airboat back to Methodist Beach where Berland was loaded into the Lake City ambulance and transported to the city park in Old Frontenac. The Mayo One helicopter from Mayo Clinic in Rochester landed in the park at 2:58 and waited several minutes while medical personnel worked on Berland inside the Lake City ambulance.

Firefighters and medical workers transferred Berland to Mayo One which left the park at 3:23 and airlifted Berland to Mayo Clinic where he spent Friday night and was released on Saturday.

Berland, 61, said he was on his sled returning from lunch in Maiden Rock. He noticed a large ice heave on the Wisconsin side, so he moved away from it and saw that the ice beneath him had become much thinner.

"I felt the ice failing beneath the sled tracks," Berland said. "I looked around and had no choice but to sink where I was or hit the gas and try to skip across the thin ice and get closer to shore. I skipped quite a distance until I hit a large ice chunk and was thrown from the sled onto 2-inch ice."

He could see his sled going down and knew he was, too. He said his only thought was to get out of the water or die.

"I kicked and grappled onto the ice, but each time, the ice gave way. I felt myself getting heavier and my boots filling with water," he said. "I shook off my mittens for a better grip, grabbed my pocket knife, and stabbed it into the ice repeatedly to acquire a secure handhold."

He finally found a solid placement for the knife and held on with both hands.

"I put my head back and said my prayers, my goodbyes to family and friends," Berland said. "The whole event was not scary, panicky, or really anything other than if I did not get out of the water, it would be the end, and the end was near."

Berland added, "This story is not about me, the dumb ass falling through the ice. It is really about the 911 responders, EMT, ER, and ICU personnel. I thank them all. I have never dealt with nicer and more profesional people in my life."

Powers was pleased with the emergency team's response.

"We work really closely with the DNR and the fire departments. Our water patrol division and our dive team work together really well," he said. "On anything serious like this, we all know what to do."

He was especially pleased with the airboats, which he said were critical in a remote location like the one on Friday. Without airboats, rescuers would have needed to transport equipment out to Long Point.

"We purchased that airboat in 2009," Powers said. "We have had multiple boat rescues, but this was probably one of the most close calls we have had. This one could have gone to a recovery real quick."

The amount of open water this late in the season is a concern for Powers.

"We are way behind a normal winter to have good ice forming," he said. "Even if we get cold temperatures, it is going to be inconsistent for ice thickness when it does freeze. This would be a good year to stay off the ice."

Steve Gardiner

Steve Gardiner taught high school English and journalism for 38 years in Montana and Wyoming.  He started working at the Republican Eagle in May 2018.  He focuses on features and outdoor stories.  

(651) 301-7872
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