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Man uses teeth to escape icy water

A new life saving technique plus the cooperation between officers of the Benton County Sheriff's Office and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recently saved a Sauk Rapids man from certain death when he fell through ice while ice skating on the Mississippi River.

James Christensen, 62, was in the water for about an hour on Nov. 29 when Deputy Michael Kost and Detective Sergeant Neal Jacobson, along with Conservation Officer Tony Musatov and his supervisor, Lt. Tim Knellwolf, arrived at the scene after nearby residents reported hearing cries for help. Also assisting in the rescue was Christensen's son, Carl Christensen, 26, as well as other emergency service providers.

Knellwolf said the elder Christensen was about 100 feet from shore when rescuers tried to get a rope out to him.

When the man's head disappeared beneath the surface, the son plunged into the freezing water to attempt a rescue. Carl Christensen kept his father afloat while the rope was worked to the area.

"Mr. Christensen was too hypothermic to grab the rescue line so his son suggested he put the rope in his mouth and bite on it," Knellwolf said. "Thankfully, with Mr. Christiansen biting the rope, we were able to pull them both to safety.

Knellwolf also noted it was an ingenious rescue tip since most people's hands become too cold holding onto the ice shelf and have no way to grab a rescue line once they've entered freezing water. A bite for life, so to speak.

James Christensen was taken to St. Cloud Hospital where he was treated for hypothermia and later released, thankful to survive the ordeal. His son was treated at the scene.

The DNR recommends that new clear ice be at least four inches thick for people to walk on it. The ice should be five inches for snowmobiles and between eight and 12 inches to support small to medium-sized cars and pickups, he said.

"Never assume the ice is safe," said Knellwolf. "Always test the ice with an ice chisel or auger before going out on the ice. People need to realize that when they choose to go out on unsafe ice, they not only put themselves in danger, but they put their would-be rescuers in danger as well."

Knellwolf also noted that people should never go out on the ice alone, carry ice rescue picks, and at least 50 feet of rope with them and should tell someone where they are going and when they will return.

It's also not a bad idea to wear a life vest under your clothing and carry a cell phone in a zip-lock bag to call for help.

"If someone falls through the ice, you need to make every effort to get them out of the water as soon as possible," he said. "Have some rope and something to throw out to the victim. Never go out to them because you could end up going from rescuer to victim."

Knellwolf said Minnesota's emergency service providers work and train together often for such incidents.

"This rescue was made possible because of the excellent cooperation between Carl Christensen, conservation officers with the DNR, Benton County Sheriff's Office and other emergency service providers at the scene," said Knellwolf. "This wouldn't have happened without each working together."