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Snowmobiles, Frozen Lake - ‘Then We Were on Water’

January 3, 1985

REEDSBURG, Wis. (AP) _ Six young people out for a nighttime ride guided their snowmobiles across a frozen lake, laughter mixing with the roar of powerful engines.

″Then all of a sudden, we couldn’t see Tim and Paula,″ said Kenneth Horkan. ″Then we were on water, skipped over it for about 10 or 15 feet, and went under.″

Horkan and his girlfriend survived the plunge into a south-central Wisconsin lake, but four companions died, including a couple who recently announced plans to be married.

A state official called it the worst snowmobile accident in Wisconsin history.

Thomas A. Birdsill, 19, of Reedsburg, and Jeffrey D. Huber, 19, of Oxford, died of exposure after being recovered from Lake Redstone shortly after the Tuesday night incident.

The bodies of Timothy Kast, 20, and Paula Craker, 18, both of Reedsburg, were not recovered until Wednesday afternoon from the lake, located about three miles northeast of La Valle.

Horkan, 19, and Jill Deakin, 18, managed to help each other crawl back onto the ice and scramble about 150 yards to safety.

Kast and Miss Craker had recently announced their engagement.

″Tim asked me a week ago to be in their wedding party,″ Horkan said from his home late Wednesday.

″We left the Kast residence on the lake just before 9:30,″ he said. ″We went north on the lake, probably about 400 yards. We were in the second snowmobile, following Tim and Paula.″

Then, as the six skimmed across the lake on four snowmobiles, Kast, Miss Craker and their craft suddenly disappeared, Horkan said. After hydroplaning on the water for a few seconds, Horkan and Miss Deakin’s snowmobile also plummeted into the icy water. The others soon followed.

″We could hear everyone screaming and hollering for each other,″ Horkan said. ″Jill and I panicked at first, too, but we knew we weren’t getting anywhere panicking, so we started working together. We kept each other calm and stayed together.

″Jill took lifesaving courses and it helped us stay calm until we could figure out how to get out. And then it helped us swim to a safe surface. We were only in the water for about a minute and a half.

″We looked around for the others, but it was so dark we couldn’t see anybody else. We ran for help and it only took us two or three minutes to get to a house to use a phone. The whole thing - from the time we hit the hole in the lake until the time we called for help - took less than five minutes.″

He said that Kast had been on the lake earlier Tuesday and had not noticed any holes in the ice. He also said radio stations had not listed Lake Redstone among those with unsafe ice surfaces.

Dan Balicki, news director at radio station WRDB in Reedsburg, said his station usually compiles information about ice safety from sources such as the sheriff’s department.

″Sure, now they announce that the ice is dangerous,″ Horkan said, ″but only after four lives were lost. I don’t think we’ll ever go snowmobiling on a lake again.″

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