GRANO - In a matter of a few seconds the vehicle broke through the lake's icy covering and sank beneath the cold, forbidding water. Fortunately, the three occupants of the 2007 Chevy Silverado diesel pickup scrambled out to safety.
"We went out the windows. There was so much ice around the pickup we couldn't open the doors," said a passenger in the vehicle who asked not to be identified, but expressed the hope that others might learn from his harrowing ordeal.
The man and his older brother, the driver of the pickup, along with a 4-year-old girl were in the process of pulling a 20-foot ice house onto Lake Darling when the incident occurred. Their access point was the Grano boat ramp. The vehicle broke through the ice inside a narrow cut that leads from boat ramp bay to Lake Darling on the north side of the Grano Crossing. Other vehicles have broken through at that location in previous years.
An ice house remained partially submerged in icy water Monday at Lake Darling. The tow vehicle is beneath the water. The vehicle broke through the ice near the Grano boat ramp Saturday morning. The occupants, two men and a 4-year-old girl, survived.
"The first thing we did was get my 4-year-old niece out. We got her safe and then worried about ourselves. Everybody got out dry and safely. We didn't get wet. We were walking single-file about 30 feet from the pickup when I fell through up to my neck. My brother went through up to his waist," said the survivor.
The young girl did not break through the ice. The older brother was able to crawl out of his dangerous predicament and roll across the ice to safety. However, getting his brother out of the frigid water quickly proved to be a matter of life and death.
"I couldn't get on top of the ice and couldn't tread water anymore. I started sinking. I got a tippy toe on a rock. If that water was a foot deeper I wouldn't be able to talk to you now. I thought I was dead. I honestly thought I was dead," said the man.
It was then that the ice fishing trip that turned from fun to nearly fatal within seconds took a very fortunate turn. A fellow ice fisherman in another pickup arrived with a long tow strap in hand and was able to toss it to the submerged and exhausted angler.
"I was in there long enough for my extremities to go numb. Then he threw me that tow strap and pulled me to shore. I honestly don't know how long I was in there. The EMT figured 15 minutes," said the man with a new lease on life. "The Mohall-Tolley ambulance took me to the Trinity emergency room where they treated me for frost bite. I had a cup of coffee and they sent me home."
According to the man, the ice never made a loud cracking sound when the pickup broke through it. The truck went down nose first with the ice house still attached to the hitch. As for the fortuitous survivor, he is crossing driving on the ice off his list permanently.
"I'll still go ice fishing, but I will not be driving on the ice. Just my four-wheeler. It's not worth dying over having a nice ice house like that," he explained.
It may be several days before both the ice house and pickup will be extracted.