Two cars were pulled from the frigid waters of Lake Winnipesaukee late last week, finally rescued after plunging through the ice and sinking more than 30 feet earlier this month.
Each of the cars fell through the lake ice on their way to the Great Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Tournament, which took place on Feb. 12 and Feb. 13, according to Tim McDonald, whose company Marine Solutions pulled each car out of the water, along with a third vehicle that had only partially broken through the ice.
McDonald said the two fully submerged cars — a Toyota and a Lexus — had fallen through the ice on Feb. 12, and were recovered on Feb. 17. The third vehicle, a Ford Explorer SUV, only partially sunk on Feb. 13, with its front wheels falling into the lake, and was salvaged the same day.
Marine Solutions decided to wait for favorable weather conditions to salvage the Toyota and the Lexus, as the diving process and equipment use is safer when temperatures are above freezing, McDonald said.
In the intervening period, the company did aerial drone reconnaissance to attempt to locate the two fully submerged vehicles.
Tiffany Letts, a spokeswoman for the tournament, an annual event organized by the state, said cars fall through the ice “here and there” on their way.
“Ice thickness varies on any lake — and especially on a lake as large as Winnipesaukee,” she wrote in an e-mail.
McDonald quipped the owner of the Ford Explorer had an “angel looking out for him.”
“He dropped two of his front tires into the water, and that was it, stopped right there. They were able to escape kind of without cause and we were able to winch it out backward without ever having full immersion in the vehicle,” McDonald said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon.
Six people and one dog were in the three vehicles when they broke through the ice, but McDonald said nobody was injured.
“In the scheme of recovery work when you have three go during the same weekend, it’s usually not that favorable, but I’m happy to say that all three people are off,” he said.
Having multiple vehicles fall through the ice in one weekend is not unheard of, McDonald said.
“This was a little unusual because they were all cars,” he said “But we’ve had a weekend before where we’ve done a dozen-plus snowmobiles, side by sides, cars. It’s not uncommon this time of year just because our ice conditions do tend to change so fast.”
McDonald said the easiest way to prevent similar situations from cropping up in the future would be to avoid driving on ice altogether. But, he said, it might well be a risk worth taking as it’s not unusual for cars to have no trouble.
And he offered some practical advice to avoid a similar fate: “The easiest way to mitigate risk is to not take vehicles on the ice,” he said, noting that the only way to be completely safe driving on ice is to “drill constantly” to check the ice depth around you.
“But I would tell you that I’m sitting near the lake right now and I’m watching an F-250 go barreling by me out in the middle of the lake . . . So it’s not uncommon to see but it’s just a matter of knowing the ice you’re on,” McDonald said.