Search and rescuers practice saving victims from icy water

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  • John Obst, left, gives advice to first time ice rescue trainees practicing rescuing each other at a seasonal rescue training exercise for David Thompson Search and Rescue crew members, Saturday at Throop Lake. (Luke Hollister/The Western News)

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    Justin Slobuszewski, gets help putting on his ice rescue suit at a seasonal rescue training exercise for David Thompson Search and Rescue crew members, Saturday at Throop Lake. (Luke Hollister/The Western News)

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    Terry Crooks wades through icy water at a seasonal rescue training exercise for David Thompson Search and Rescue crew members, Saturday at Throop Lake. (Luke Hollister/The Western News)

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    Susan Lippert, left, and David Nitschke, right, help Norm Branch rescue John Obst at a seasonal rescue training exercise for David Thompson Search and Rescue crew members, Saturday at Throop Lake. (Luke Hollister/The Western News)

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    Luke Miller prepares to jump in Throop Lake during a seasonal rescue training exercise for David Thompson Search and Rescue crew members, Saturday at Throop Lake. (Luke Hollister/The Western News)

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    Stephanie Anderson, left, practices her rescuing skills by pulling Terry Crooks out of Throop Lake at a seasonal rescue training exercise for David Thompson Search and Rescue crew members, Saturday at Throop Lake. (Luke Hollister/The Western News)

  • John Obst, left, gives advice to first time ice rescue trainees practicing rescuing each other at a seasonal rescue training exercise for David Thompson Search and Rescue crew members, Saturday at Throop Lake. (Luke Hollister/The Western News)

  • 1

    Justin Slobuszewski, gets help putting on his ice rescue suit at a seasonal rescue training exercise for David Thompson Search and Rescue crew members, Saturday at Throop Lake. (Luke Hollister/The Western News)

  • 2

    Terry Crooks wades through icy water at a seasonal rescue training exercise for David Thompson Search and Rescue crew members, Saturday at Throop Lake. (Luke Hollister/The Western News)

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    Susan Lippert, left, and David Nitschke, right, help Norm Branch rescue John Obst at a seasonal rescue training exercise for David Thompson Search and Rescue crew members, Saturday at Throop Lake. (Luke Hollister/The Western News)

  • 4

    Luke Miller prepares to jump in Throop Lake during a seasonal rescue training exercise for David Thompson Search and Rescue crew members, Saturday at Throop Lake. (Luke Hollister/The Western News)

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    Stephanie Anderson, left, practices her rescuing skills by pulling Terry Crooks out of Throop Lake at a seasonal rescue training exercise for David Thompson Search and Rescue crew members, Saturday at Throop Lake. (Luke Hollister/The Western News)

The sun had just started to peek over the mountains above Throop Lake and it was cold, but not frozen enough to keep from falling in.

Jon Obst, a search and rescue veteran of 20 years, was looking for a spot to jump in.

Covered in bright-colored protective gear and hooked to a rope, he slowly shuffled across the lake.

About 40 feet out, the lake cracked open, immersing Obst in the icy water.

“Falling in? It’s weird at first,” he said. Obst is a former president of David Thompson Search and Rescue. He still comes to the trainings.

Every year, people out in the elements accidentally fall through the ice, he said. David Thompson Search and Rescue team members will “definitely respond anytime, anyplace.”

The crew has to be ready for any scenario, he said.

Obst helped them practice pulling people out of frozen water during a seasonal training Saturday.

In the back of his truck sits a full-body rescue suit, always ready. That way, he can respond as quickly as possible if he gets a call.

Though Obst is a former member of David Thompson, he considers himself an honorary part of the team.

The crew trains for the worst situations, he said. If something goes wrong, they know what to do and how to focus their adrenaline.

Terry Crooks, a unit leader with David Thompson, said he wants people in the community to come back home safely.

All the rescuers work together. There is no individual person who does it all, he said.

The team spends time training so when they go into “rescue mode” it just becomes autopilot, he said. If anyone needs to be rescued, then their years of training will kick in.

Crooks has been working with search and rescue in Lincoln county for 35 years.

“Everyone who is in this harsh environment that we live in, can or will be getting in trouble,” he said.

Education is the best component of search and rescue, he said. People need to be aware of thin ice and how quickly — in 30 seconds — hypothermia can render someone immobile.

“Even though we train for it, we do not want to get a call that somebody’s gone through the ice,” he said.

When someone does not make it home, it hurts the hearts of everyone in the community, he said. Things can go sideways and people out in the elements need to be responsible.

“It’s unfortunate that people get themselves into hardships but that’s the reality of life,” he said. “Even the best can get in trouble out there,” and situational awareness is very important.

Potential victims get the idea that they will be able to stay afloat if they fall in, but their body will cool down extremely fast, he said. People are basically warm-water creatures.

“Time is critical,” he said. Both the time it takes for a rescue team to arrive and the seconds it takes for hypothermia to set in.

Crooks, like the rest of the rescue staff, took turns pulling people out of the ice. He crawled out onto the lake, belly down, arms out, slowly moving forward.

The ice rescue suits are heavy, thick, stiff and hard to walk in, especially on ice.

Norm Branch, an ice rescue teacher apart from the rescue team, sat out in the lake, observing the trainees.

“It’s not really as easy as it looks, crawling on the ice” he said.

Climbing out of a frozen lake is difficult in deep water, he said. Saving a victim is especially hard when the ice is not thick enough to hold a person and too thin to walk on.

Rescuers sometimes have to pound through layers of ice to save a victim, he said. It might be sunny out now, but being in an ice rescue is very tiring and it can get cold.

Branch enjoys helping his crew train and cares a lot about his work.

“The community has been there for me before, so I feel like I’m just giving back,” he said.

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