Tragedy on White Iron Lake

A couple riding on a snowmobile ended up in the waters of White Iron Lake. They didn’t make it out. But the story doesn’t end there. Our local first responders spent many hours searching over the Christmas holiday when they should have been home. The tragedy was felt by many.
If you’ve never broken through the ice and had to get yourself out of the water, consider yourself lucky. If you ever do find yourself in that position and are able to get out, consider yourself blessed.
We will likely never know exactly what happened that day. Some accidents are like that. Was it avoidable? Did the weather play a factor? Were there mechanical issues? We can play the what if game forever and in the end two people lost their lives. A tragedy.
The call to authorities didn’t come in until Monday when the male victim didn’t show up for work. A check of his cabin found the sauna hot, the lights on, the doors open. All waiting for the owner and his friend to return. But that didn’t happen.
Finding a snowmobile missing, authorities began a wide-ranging search not knowing for sure what direction they went. Did they take the portage from Birch Lake to Bear Island? Were they on a local trail and had broken down somewhere?
Two volunteers drove 90 miles on snowmobiles searching. They went up and down the shoreline. They took every portage and trail around the lake, working their way north. Ruling every other option out, they focused on the thin ice by the dam at the end of Birch Lake or the other end of the river where the water pours into White Iron Lake.
Helmets on the ice of White Iron gave away the likely ending. The snowmobile had broken through and taken the two riders into the icy waters. The search changed tactics. Underwater was now where to look.
At 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve, when Santa was starting to make his rounds in the North Country, a body was pulled from the water. These aren’t highly paid personnel out in the dark and cold, these are volunteers. Away from their families, hoping to help a family find out what happened to their loved ones.
They searched for another four hours until the cold drove them from the lake. Yet they returned five hours later, on Christmas Day. While the rest of us were opening presents with our loved ones, these dedicated ones were looking for a body. They could have waited a day (who among us would have complained?). But they didn’t.
They searched all day. Even with the most modern equipment the search was unsuccessful. Christmas Day came and went away from family and friends. At dark they called it a day. And came back the next day.
On the third day of searching there was finally a cause for relief. The second body was located by a remote operated vehicle. The family could be notified and closure could be found. But there was gear to put away before the searchers could go home.
For the families affected by the loss of their loved ones, our hearts and prayers go out to you. For us this is a reminder that every day is precious and tomorrow is not guaranteed to any of us.
For our first responders who spent Christmas Eve and came back Christmas Day out in the cold, leaving their warm homes and families behind, we say thank you. May it be many moons before another call comes in and you have to leave them again.