April 2, 2007

On thin ice

Cokato man found himself in the cold waters of Lake of the Woods

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

What was supposed to be a relaxing fishing expedition in December turned deadly for one Cokato resident who lives to tell his scary story.

It took some time for Bruce Michaelson to talk about his story of falling through the ice on Lake of the Woods, but now he’s happy to be alive to tell about it.

Michaelson is the property manager for Cokato Lake Camping and RV Resort, along with his wife Aimee. He also coaches the Litchfield Dassel Cokato Minimites hockey team.

Back in December, he went fishing with his father in-law, brother in-law, and two friends on Lake of the Woods on the Minnesota/Canadian border Dec. 29.

Around 4 p.m., the fishermen decided to move to shallower water to follow a tip that walleyes travelled to shallower water as the evening drew near.

After no luck fishing, the men decided to call it a day around 4:45 p.m. They packed up the fishing gear and the portable fishing houses and strapped them on the snowmobiles and headed back to shore.

Michaelson’s brother-in-law, Brett Korinek, led the pack with his global positioning system (GPS).

Korinek then broke through thin ice on Morris Point Washout, an area where washouts from a strong current was common.

“Had we known the place had a name like that, we may have found a different way around,” Michaelson said.

Korinek was able to dive forward and roll onto solid ice. Because he was wet and cold, Korinek left the pack to hurry into the camp to avoid hypothermia.

Within seconds of getting back onto their own snowmobiles, Michaelson’s father-in-law, Bruce was plunging through the ice, as well. The two remaining men grabbed for him, when the ice gave way and Michaelson fell in with him.

After no success pulling the two men out, Michaelson pleaded for his friend to leave them and go to shore to get help to avoid all three of them being stranded in the freezing cold water.

After 45 minutes of floating in the water on a collapsed portable fish house and hearing the goodbyes from his father-in-law, a posse of locals and tourists came to their rescue.

The men were rushed to nearby Morris Point Resort, a half-mile from where they fell in. There, a gift shop was turned into a rescue center before the ambulance arrived at 6:25 p.m. to take them to a nearby hospital.

Michaelson had a body temperature of 91 degrees, his father-in-law’s was 88 degrees. He was discharged that same night, but his father-in-law remained overnight for observation. There, he was found to have had a cardiac event while he was in the water.

Michaelson’s father-in-law just recently returned to work after bypass surgery and a full recovery.

Michaelson, himself, is finally getting more sleep. The nightmares and seeing a picture of the watery hole are becoming fewer and farther between, he said.

“The whole event was so surreal,” Michaelson said.

“Everyone went above and beyond. I can’t even fathom how I will thank them,” he said.

“People say we are lucky. I say we are fortunate. If we were lucky, we wouldn’t have been in the water,” he said.

Michaelson, being an outdoors-man, has always been aware of his surroundings. But with an unseasonable winter and an unknown lake, they found themselves in a scary predicament.

“I’m glad to be here to tell this story,” he said.

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