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'Bad year for ice': Two killed as snowmobile plunges into lake

HANOVER, Minn. -- Divers recovered the bodies of two men Sunday whose snowmobile sank after hitting open water on a lake near the Twin Cities, the first thin-ice related deaths reported in Minnesota in a mild winter that has left ice unreliable across the state.

Dozens of people have fallen into frigid waters around Minnesota this winter as unseasonably warm temperatures have weakened ice and in some cases left patches of open water such as those on Lake Charlotte northwest of Minneapolis.


"It was a single snowmobile and it appears to have just run right into open water," said Captain Greg Howell of the Wright County Sheriff's Office. "It's been a bad year for ice."

Local NBC station KARE 11 reported that the two young men were graduates of the Rockford High School, according to its principal, Ryan Jensen.

Jensen named the victims as 2009 graduate Brad Skafte, 20, and 2010 graduate Adam Patnode, 19, KARE 11 said.

The station reported that divers found their bodies around 8 a.m. (9 a.m. ET) Sunday using sonar equipment.

"It's hard to take in," said Nathan Bigley, a friend of the two young men, according to KARE 11. "It still really hasn't hit me hard. But they were both really good guys. Everyone loved them in the community."

Dan Harberts, whose son was also good friends with the two victims, told the station that "they always seemed to be bored."

"Sitting around was never good enough for them," Harberts said. "They're way too young for something like this to happen."

Tail lights vanished
A 66-year-old man from Buffalo, Minnesota, riding an all-terrain vehicle, had reported seeing a snowmobile drop into the lake on Saturday night. He went to investigate and was rescued by a neighbor when his ATV also sank into the water, Howell said.

"It's fortunate we weren't looking for three instead of two," Howell said.

The man, Gail King, told the Star Tribune that he had heard a cracking noise and then the tail lights of the snowmobile vanish into the water.

He did not hear any shouts for help, the Tribune reported.

Searchers found snowmobile tracks leading straight to an area of open water on the lake and family members reported two men missing who were thought to have been snowmobiling on the lake Saturday night, Howell said.

Divers located the snowmobile but have not yet pulled it from the lake, Howell said.

The ice depth ranges from an inch to 12 inches on lakes in the county with open water in some spots, Howell said.

Across Minnesota people have reported falling through the ice this winter on-foot, in cars, riding ATVs and snowmobiles, and even in an ice boat, which has steel runners and a sail, officials have said.

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Reuters contributed to this report.