Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fishers' truck falls through ice

Used cellphone to call for help

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BEACONIA BEACH -- They're safe. And they have a fish story to top their buddies' tallest tales.

Two men at the centre of a massive search-and-rescue effort carried out under near blizzard conditions on the ice on Lake Winnipeg were found alive Wednesday.

The pickup truck the men were travelling in to go ice fishing on the east side of Lake Winnipeg crashed through the ice about 10 a.m. and was partially submerged. One man, a 51-year-old from Winnipeg, made a desperate 911 call before his cellphone went dead -- apparently standing on the roof of the truck when he made the call -- to say the pair were in trouble about three kilometres out from Beaconia Beach.

That call triggered the search by ground crews who used Balsam Harbour for a staging area until the search was called off just before 6 p.m. In the end, police said it wasn't the searchers who found the victims. It was, kind of, the other way around.

"One individual managed to get to shore and to a house on Patricia Beach," East St. Paul RCMP Sgt. Paul Gilligan said.

Then he called 911, for the second time that day. "He directed us to the other individual on shore and our search-and-rescue people went to get him," Gilligan said.

The condition of the man who was rescued on shore, a 54-year-old resident of Grand Point, was not available Wednesday night. The man who called police was reported to be fine.

RCMP still hadn't located the truck by the time darkness fell. The water is more than six metres deep in that area. Ice conditions vary, the result of this winter's mild weather, but the thickness in some areas is two-thirds of a metre.

The details of how the pair made it out of the truck and got to shore were not disclosed and the names of the two men weren't released.

Manitoba Conservation, the RCMP and East Beaches firefighters mounted an initial search for the two men with a dozen snowmobiles from Balsam Harbour. But visibility was poor and there was blowing snow.

A commercial plane based out of St. Andrews Airport made courtesy passes over the search area through the late morning and into the afternoon.

By mid-afternoon, with daylight fading and a north wind kicking up, the search expanded. RCMP from Selkirk, RCMP Search and Rescue officers, the Manitoba Office of the Fire Commissioner and Manitoba Search and Rescue joined the effort.

Dozens of fishermen, already on the ice for an ice-fishing derby despite the weather, joined in. Some reported seeing a truck matching the description of the one that crashed through the ice, and they stuck around all day to find out what happened.

"That truck went by us," said Fargo, N.D., winter angler Brett Storhoff, describing how he and his buddies saw the truck drive by them when they set up at first light.

It was the second near tragedy with a truck falling through the ice on the lake Wednesday. Another truck broke through a visibly slushy patch of ice at Chalet Beach on Lake Winnipeg between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. That truck got stuck in the ice in about four metres of water. The driver walked to shore without injury and was looking for a tow truck in the afternoon.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2012 A3

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