CLEAR LAKE | A crew of about eight men worked for hours in subzero temperatures Tuesday to recover a luxury SUV that fell through thin ice on Clear Lake.
The 2017 Lexus RX 350 went into the water sometime Monday. At first, it was just the front of the SUV, allowing the people inside to get out and walk to shore.
Overnight, the SUV submerged itself in about 10 feet of water, with 3 to 4 feet of water above the vehicle. It went through the ice on the southwestern side of the lake, more than 200 yards from the shoreline.
"I've been doing this since 1987," Bob Kirschbaum said. “I’ve never seen a Lexus go through the ice.”
Bob owns Bob's Repair and Tow as well as Okoboji UnderWater Recovery Specialists with his sons, Josh and Jason. They were called from Spirit Lake to recover the SUV, but Jason said they had to find it first.
Temperatures Tuesday afternoon hovered just above zero in Clear Lake. Finding and recovering the vehicle took several hours.
“By the time we got it set up, got the rig over the hole, found it, took us a little while because he (owner of the vehicle) couldn’t remember where he was quite at,” Jason said. “He was heading over to the other side and didn’t know it was this thin over here.”
The family might have been ice fishing, Josh said. The person who owns the vehicle has not been identified. Officials with the Iowa DNR, which oversees lake enforcement, did not return three calls seeking that information Monday and Tuesday.
“Where the vehicle fell through, (the ice) was only about an inch, 2 inches thick,” Jason said. "It got a lot of front-end damage when it went in.”
Jason had to scuba dive into the frigid water for find the vehicle and hook it to the rig to be pulled up.
“I was in the water about 45 minutes, hooking up all four points of the vehicle,” Jason said. “The water is warmer than what we’re standing in. It's about 35, 36 degrees in there.”
Recovery can be dangerous. At one point, the crew was 100 yards back from the submerged SUV, where the ice was only about 2 inches thick.
“This one here is difficult because of the ice conditions,” Bob said. “Normally, if we’ve got decent ice, we can be in and out of there in two hours.”
Bob said this is the longest recovery they’ve had this season, and praised his crew for their efficiency.
“We need to keep things moving so we can get back to that heated trailer over there, if you know what I'm saying,” Bob said. “It’s an extremely cold day.”
Not far away, open water by aerators could be seen, along with several ice houses, trucks and people ice fishing.
“Once we get back to some more solid ice — we’re at about 5-6 inches now — we get back and lower the vehicles down and tow it to shore,” Jason said. “It’s quite a process.”
The equipment used to drag the the recovery rig holding the SUV kept running out of battery due to the cold. Every once in awhile, they would have to stop and let the rig sit, suspending the vehicle.
The rig will float 25,000 pounds. The crew also has more the 3,500 feet of cable.
"Insurance companies will consider this a total loss," Jason said. Some parts may be salvaged. “We have two vehicles in our fleet that have been salvaged; one actually came in from Clear Lake.”
This is the second vehicle to fall through the ice this week. On Sunday, a truck owned by John Juhlin of Cedar Falls fell through the ice in Bayside, between the shore and the island. A firefighter was able to help Juhlin, who was not hurt, out of the truck.
Josh said the Lexus was at least the second vehicle they have pulled out of Clear Lake this season.
“Fortunately, no one got hurt or killed,” Bob said. “We have had fatalities before.”