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Ely man grieves a fatal risk

Marshall Hinden said he felt some survivor's guilt Friday as he wished there were more he could have done to save his lifelong friend, Bob Engebretson, after the snowmobiles the Ely men were driving Wednesday broke through the ice on Burntside Lake.

Marshall Hinden said he felt some survivor's guilt Friday as he wished there were more he could have done to save his lifelong friend, Bob Engebretson, after the snowmobiles the Ely men were driving Wednesday broke through the ice on Burntside Lake.

The men knew the ice might be unsafe. As a precaution, they wore dump truck inner tubes around their waists with ropes tied to them while on their journey northwest of Ely.

Hinden, 49, said he and Engebretson, 66, hunted, fished and had worked together. They headed out from the Slim Lake landing on the north arm of Burntside Lake destined for Hinden's hunting shack Wednesday afternoon. They had tubs attached to their machines hauling guns, food and more winter clothes for the muzzle-loader deer season.

But their plans changed when the thin layer of snow wouldn't allow enough traction for the sleds to pull their gear on the slippery ice. They decided to return to Hinden's truck and try again on Thursday.

Hinden said he was in the lead when his snowmobile fell through the ice; he knew nothing of his friend's predicament.

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"When it hit the water, I just jumped off the machine with the inner tube and crawled onto the ice," he said. "Everything happened so quick, it was just shock stage. Then I started running on the ice to shoo Bob away from the trail, but he never showed. Then I knew something happened to him."

Hinden said he couldn't hear his partner's snow machine and he got no answer when he tried calling him on the cellphone. He then ran to shore, where some kids gave him a ride in their vehicle to the nearby YMCA Camp du Nord. A 911 call was made at some point, Hinden said. He and a friend scanned the area with binoculars but there was no sign of Engebretson.

The victim's body was recovered by the St. Louis County Sheriff's Volunteer Rescue Squad from 27 feet of water using a Remotely Operated Vehicle camera Wednesday night.

"I would have given my life for Bob and he would have given his for me, I guess," Hinden said. "That's how much we loved each other."

Hinden, who owns a contracting company in his name, said he put in a well and sewer system for Engebretson to live in a mobile home on Hinden's property, a couple of miles north of Ely.

He said Engebretson was "a man of honor, dignity, very straightforward, one of the best friends and companions that a person could ever hope to have."

Hinden was asked why they would travel on ice so unreliable that they felt the need to wear an inner tube.

"I can't answer that at this time," he said softly. "I don't know. This will always be on my mind. I don't think I'll push the envelope anymore like I have in the past. I hope the hell this will be some sort of a wakeup call for me. When you lose your best friend -- and he was cut from the same cloth as I am and we always ran on the edge, I guess -- I would hope to God that I have enough sense to give things a second thought."

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MARK STODGHILL covers public safety and courts. He can be reached weekdays at (218) 723-5333 or by e-mail at mstodghill@duluthnews.com .

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