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6-year old boy falls through ice, drowns in Aitkin County

Sheriff Dan Guida says the 6-year-old boy was on a small lake on a space that was normally used as a skating rink but was covered with snow on Sunday.

AITKIN COUNTY, Minn. — Editors note: The story above about inconsistent ice conditions in Minnesota first aired on March 7, 2023. 

The drowning death of a young boy in Aitkin County Sunday underlines the inconsistency of ice and the need for caution in many parts of Minnesota following an uneven winter.

A news release from Sheriff Dan Guida says the 6-year-old was in rural McGrath on the surface of a small lake around 1:30 p.m. when he went through the ice in an area that was usually used as a skating rink, but on Sunday was covered in snow. 

A family member discovered the boy in waist deep water, found he wasn't breathing and started CPR. Sheriff's deputies and first responders struggled to get to the scene due to 14 inches of fresh snow, eventually using a snowmobile to transport the child to an ambulance waiting on a road that was passable. 

Sheriff Guida says lifesaving efforts continued until 4 p.m. when the young victim was pronounced dead in a hospital emergency room. 

The Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office has determined the death was caused by freshwater drowning. 

A fundraiser started to support the boy's family identified the 6-year-old as Owen Benjamin. A Facebook post shared by East Central Schools ISD 2580 on Monday, March 13 confirmed that Owen was a first-grader at the school.

Safety officials with the Minnesota DNR recently communicated with KARE 11 following an incident where a group of ice anglers was stranded on a floating piece of ice in the middle of Lake Pepin. The agency underlined how roller coaster temps and major weather events have had an impact on ice quality. 

"This winter has been quite unusual with generally poor ice conditions throughout the state," the DNR said in a statement to KARE 11. "We began the winter with very heavy snowfall in December which set us on a bad start for the ice season. Snow acts as an insulating blanket, slowing the rate of new ice formation. With above-average snowfall in December, we started off with slower ice formation than in typical years. In addition to the snowfall, we have had fluctuating warmer temperatures which caused the snow to melt and become slush on top of the ice on multiple occasions. The slush further deteriorates the ice, and when it refreezes, it creates white ice."


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