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'Right place, right time': Fisherman saves 2 after pickup plunges through ice

One man told the Traverse County Sheriff that rescuer Chad Schmidt of Dumont came just in time as he was "almost out of gas" trying to stay afloat.
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WHEATON, Minn. — Ice fishermen usually measure luck in terms of how many fish they bring home.

Traverse County Sheriff Trevor Wright would likely say there was a different scale of good fortune on display Monday, after two anglers plunged through the ice in their pickup. They are alive and well, thanks to another fisherman who acted quickly and decisively.

Chad Schmidt of Dumont was inside his ice shack on Lake Traverse around 5:30 p.m. when he heard something that was out of the ordinary. Schmidt told Sheriff Wright he was "minding his own business, looked out the window, and saw the truck go down." 

The ice angler ran to his own truck, grabbed a tow strap and hustled over to the open water left by the pickup. There Schmidt found 56-year-old Pete Katalinas and 72-year-old Lloyd Nelson struggling in the icy water. He tossed the men the tow strap, and was able to pull them to solid ice. Both refused medical attention, and were taken home by deputies. 

Two dogs that were in the pickup that went down did not survive. 

Sheriff Wright talked with the fishermen Tuesday morning to review the incident and check on how they were doing. One told him that their rescuer came just in time as he was "almost out of gas" trying to stay afloat. 

"We probably would have had one, maybe two fatalities," Sheriff Wright said, when asked what would have happened if not for the actions of the 53-year-old Schmidt. 

The fishermen told the sheriff they were driving about 150 yards from shore when they saw an ice heave, and thought they could make it across. "I should have known better," one told him. 

RELATED: More than 60 ice anglers rescued in northeast Wisconsin

Arrangements are being made to recover the truck, which is still on the bottom of Lake Traverse. Sheriff Wright is trying to arrange something else, namely a lifesaving award for Chad Schmidt, who worked for years with Wright's father. The sheriff says Schmidt turned down interview requests after the story broke, and is not the kind of guy who wants or enjoys the spotlight. 

With or without recognition, one thing is not up for debate: Had Mr. Schmidt not gone fishing Monday night, things could have turned out very differently. 

"Right place, right time... saved two lives," Wright said. 

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