Update (Feb. 3, 5:10 p.m.): The Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office has formally identified the two Maple Grove residents who drowned in Lake Minnetonka Saturday afternoon after their car broke through the ice. Click here for more.
Update (Feb. 3, 10:48 a.m.): Two people have died after their vehicle became submerged in Lake Minnetonka yesterday, Feb. 2. A man in his 30s and an elderly woman, both from Maple Grove, died Feb. 2 at HCMC. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner will release the names of the victims.
A vehicle broke through the ice underneath the Grays Bay Bridge around 2:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon—trapping two occupants for nearly an hour according to the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.
Major Darrell Huggett said one victim was transported to the Hennepin County Medical Center via helicopter; the other was taken from the scene by ambulance. Their conditions remained unknown as of this posting.
While identities have not been officially released, both victims are from the Twin Cities area. One is a male in his 30s, the other is an elderly female. The male was the first to call for help, telling emergency dispatchers that he "was sinking."
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The first emergency responders reached Grays Bay in approximately six minutes, and several water rescue units arrived shortly thereafter. Dive teams reported both victims were unconcious and not breathing upon reaching the surface.
Exactly why the vehicle was in the area where it went into the water—which was marked by several "thin ice" signs—is unclear, but Major Huggett said the 2006 red Pontiac sedan was heading west under the bridge toward the bigger area of the bay when it broke through the ice.
Water depth under the bridge near where the vehicle broke through is estimated at between eight and 10 feet. Approximately 35 first responders were called to Saturday afternoon's accident. Police and fire units from Wayzata and Minnetonka, at least two helicopters and multiple ambulances—as well as the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office—all responded to the scene.
Eileen Baker, a resident on Grays Bay, said she drove by the scene on her way home from running errands. Upon arrving home, she decided to ski to the site.
Baker said the people inside the vehicle "still had not been rescued" and estimated the car had been under for "at least 45 minutes."
A total of 14 vehicles, including two Friday night and the one involved in Saturday afternoon's accident, have broken through the ice on Lake Minnetonka this winter. An accident last month resulted in the death of nine-month-old Tabitha Markle. Numerous snowmobiles have also gone through the ice this winter at various locations around Lake Minnetonka.
"The channels are not safe," Major Huggett said. "Our deputies are out everyday marking channels with thin ice signs. We've got a lot of media out there, we've got billboards and we're trying to get the message out that the ices is not safe this year."
Major Huggett went on to say that extreme cold spells, combined with stretches of warm weather, have made ice conditions throughout Hennepin County—and specifically on Lake Minnetonka—unsafe and unpredictable.
Last winter, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek ordered all vehicles off Hennepin County waters following a rash of vehicles breaking through the ice. No such order is anticipated to be given in the near future.
"There is safe ice, but where we are having problems is in the channels and the pressure ridges," Major Huggett said. "Early on we had no snow, which allows people to kind of go wherever they want on the ice, but now with the snow pack it's a little more difficult. We don't have any intentions at this time to close the lakes or the launches."
Lake Minnetonka Patch will have additional updates to this story as further details are confirmed.