An angler was rescued from atop his partially submerged vehicle Tuesday after it broke through the ice on Rice Lake reservoir north of Duluth.
"It's damn embarrassing," Bill Weckman, 60, of Duluth Township said after rescue crews extended a ladder to reach his Kia Sedona about 200 feet from shore near the Rice Lake Dam at about 1 p.m.
"I wanted to get off early before it got warmer," he said, as temperatures climbed to record highs in the region. "It's a two-wheel-drive (vehicle) and I wanted to get off before it got slushy."
Weckman said he went out on the lake to fish at about 9:30 a.m. As he headed back to the boat landing, he was driving about 30 mph when the vehicle broke through the ice without warning and started to sink in shallow water. Weckman climbed out through an open window and waited on the vehicle's roof until rescuers arrived.
The temperature at the Duluth airport reached 57 degrees at 1 p.m., a record for the date.
"I have been out fishing on 3 1/4 feet (of ice); it's that way all the way to the island," Weckman said, noting he was out fishing with many other anglers on Sunday. "What I didn't take into account was that the only flow in the lake is right by the landing. Luckily it's just 3 feet deep here."
St. Louis County Undersheriff Dave Phillips said the incident is a reminder of increasingly unsafe ice conditions as the Northland sees a major warm-up this week.
"With temps in the 50s this has been the ultimate regional defrost," he said. "We're urging people to stay off the ice."
Capt. Rick Slatten of the St. Louis County Rescue Squad said the recent pattern of thawing and refreezing weakens the structure of the ice. During training in spring, he said, he's broken through 10 inches of ice.
"A single open crack, where you can see water, is a 40 percent loss of strength" to the ice," he said. "Where two cracks like that come together is a 75 percent loss of strength."