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Vehicle at the bottom of the lake: Now what?

Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald on

Published in Outdoors

Steps to follow

Thompson says anyone who loses a vehicle or other equipment to bad ice should contact authorities and their insurance company before doing anything else. While some salvage operations charge a flat rate, Thompson says Tri-State charges $2,400 for the first hour and $1,200 for every hour thereafter from the time they hit the lake until they're back on shore with the vehicle.

The goal, Thompson says, is to bring the vehicle back to the surface without any more damage than it sustained when it sank.

The vehicle might be totaled, but it's worth less to a salvage company if the metal's not usable, he says.

"We work real good with insurance companies," Thompson said. "Once I get a claim number, it makes it a lot easier for the client than to all of a sudden pull (the vehicle) out and give this huge bill to the insurance company, and they're going, 'why did you go this route?' "

Full-coverage policies will pay the cost of the extraction and replacing the vehicle, minus deductibles. Some liability insurance policies may cover the cost of removal, as well, but that's something people who do a lot of ice driving should confirm with their insurers.

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Despite popular belief, full coverage for dropping a vehicle through the ice isn't a one-time thing, Thompson says; not for most insurance companies, at least."

"The only way they could (not pay) is if they put a waiver on that it's not covered if you go on the ice," Thompson said. "But then, I guess I would look for a different insurance company if you're going to go out there fishing."

Changing workload

While vehicle and fish house extractions dominate the winter workload, summer tends to be more commercial jobs, such as underwater cutting, power plant projects, working for the Department of Natural Resources or other agencies and looking for jewelry or other items of value, Thompson says. Occasionally, though, the Tri-State crew raises vehicles to the surface and tows them back to shore in open water. Such was the case on Lake of the Woods in June 2016, when Tri-State salvaged two vehicles that had broken through honeycomb ice that March.

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