CHINA — An all-terrain vehicle carrying two young men and a 6-year-old boy from Benton broke through the ice of China Lake Thursday morning, and all three riders escaped serious injury.
The driver, Lucas Cole, 25, said he was trapped in the water for about five minutes, during which time he suffered hypothermia and frostbite.
“I went under the water three times,” Cole said from the shore Thursday afternoon. He said he tried to climb out immediately, but the ice kept breaking beneath his hands.
“It was the scariest thing I ever been through,” he said.
Cole’s friend, Donald Cowles, said he threw his nephew to safety and escaped the water himself quickly. Cowles then walked around to the other side of the hole in the ice and helped Cole escape.
The two men and the boy were taken by ambulance to Inland Hospital in Waterville and discharged.
Most of China Lake is frozen solid, with snowmobile trails crisscrossing its surface, but Cole and Cowles, who had never been on the lake before, tried to cross an area near an inlet on the lake’s northern shore.
The current caused by the inlet, which runs beneath Causeway Road off Lakeview Drive, created a weak spot. Cole said that, if he had been caught by the lake current, he could have been taken under the ice and died. He only expects to lose a fingernail, the consequence of a small patch of frostbite on his finger.
The Maine Warden Service responded and oversaw the removal of the ATV from the lake early Thursday afternoon.
Game Warden Steven Couture said the pair thought they were being safe because they were following an old snowmobile track across the ice, which was still visible beneath several inches of fresh snow that covered the lake Wednesday.
But snowmobiles can make it over areas that an ATV can’t.
“A snowmobile can skim over the water,” Couture said. “It’s not legal, but they do it. The snowmobile could have hit full power and skimmed over it like it was nothing. A four-wheeler is a different story. It’s slow.”
Couture said locals usually know to steer clear of the causeway but that Cole and Cowles had no way to know the water wasn’t safe there.
Cowles said he had hoped to take his young nephew ice fishing on the lake and set out shortly before 8 a.m.
The ATV, which was owned by Cole, had just 11 miles on it. He said the vehicle, which was towed from the water under the supervision of Game Warden Mark Merrifield at about 1:30 p.m., is insured.
Alcohol was not a factor and no criminal charges have been brought in the case, according to Couture.