By David Bailey
MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Divers recovered the bodies of two men Sunday whose snowmobile sank after hitting open water on a lake near the Twin Cities, the first thin-ice related deaths reported in Minnesota in a mild winter that has left ice unreliable across the state.
Dozens of people have fallen into frigid waters around Minnesota this winter as unseasonably warm temperatures have weakened ice and in some cases left patches of open water such as those on Lake Charlotte northwest of Minneapolis.
"It was a single snowmobile and it appears to have just run right into open water," said Captain Greg Howell of the Wright County Sheriff's Office. "It's been a bad year for ice."
Howell said divers recovered the bodies of two young adult men Sunday afternoon and were withholding their names pending a positive identification and notification of family members.
A 66-year-old man from Buffalo, Minnesota, riding an all-terrain vehicle had reported seeing a snowmobile drop into the lake on Saturday night, went to investigate and was rescued by a neighbor when his ATV also sank into the water, Howell said.
"It's fortunate we weren't looking for three instead of two," Howell said.
Searchers found snowmobile tracks leading straight to an area of open water on the lake and family members reported two men missing who were thought to have been snowmobiling on the lake Saturday night, Howell said.
Divers located the snowmobile, but have not yet pulled it from the lake, Howell said.
The ice depth ranges from an inch to 12 inches on lakes in the county with open water in some spots, Howell said.
Across Minnesota people have reported falling through the ice this winter on-foot, in cars, riding ATVs and snowmobiles, and even in an ice boat, which has steel runners and a sail, officials have said.
(Reporting By David Bailey; Editing by James B. Kelleher)