Like most people who have gone through the ice in a vehicle, Kent Johnson would rather not re-live the incident.
But that's exactly what the Brainerd man will do at 6 p.m. Thursday, when the Outdoor Life Network (Channel 63) re-enacts Johnson's horrifying accident of Feb. 4, 2000.
On that day, Johnson, who had fished Gull Lake for 60 years, was driving to a spot where he had been told the walleyes were biting. He had stopped at his son's house on the north shore to see if he wanted to fish, too, but his son was busy and Johnson went alone.
It was 11 a.m. as Johnson drove across Hole-in-the-Day Bay on his way to Holman's Point. Johnson said he usually rolled down the windows while driving on ice, but didn't this time.
"Why when the ice was 20 inches thick?" Johnson said. "There were 10,000 people out there for the (Jaycees) ice fishing contest just two weeks earlier."
Unknown to Johnson, there was a weak spot in the ice near Holman's Point. There was no visible evidence, such as a heave, to reveal the danger.
"If I saw a heave I always stayed away," Johnson said. "But there was nothing. The ice had inverted instead. When my front end broke through it was such a surprise I couldn't believe it."
As Johnson's Pontiac Bonneville began to sink, water filled the car. Within minutes it was waist high. Johnson's boots filled to the brim, rendering them useless as the 80-year-old man feebly kicked at the windows. He grabbed an ice dipper and hammered on the windows. Nothing gave. Now the water was neck high and Johnson surrendered to his fate.
"I couldn't do any more and I said, 'God, I'm in your hands.'" Minutes later Johnson passed out.
Luckily, the car's rear bumper had hung up on the ice, preventing the car from plunging to the bottom 40 feet below. Had the vehicle gone down Johnson would have drowned. As it was, the car held just enough air for Johnson to survive.
Two hours later a snowmobiler, Jay Anderson of Shell Lake, Wis., saw Johnson's car and rushed to help. But the ice was too thin to approach the car, so Anderson flagged down a passing truck, whose driver sped to shore and grabbed a section of dock that had been laid up for winter. By using the dock as a ramp, Anderson reached the rear door and pulled Johnson out. He was taken to St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd and then air lifted to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale.
Two days later Johnson opened his eyes and saw his family in a circle around him.
"I thought I was looking up at them from a coffin," Johnson said. "Then I looked again and said, 'Wait, I can see and hear them. I must be alive.'"
The doctor told Johnson his body temperature had dropped to 72 degrees during his ordeal.
"He said he had never seen anybody survive whose body temperature got that low," Johnson said. "But my heart and lungs were in good shape. I guess all the golfing I do in the summer paid off. That and God didn't want me yet."
Three years later at his 60th wedding anniversary celebration, Johnson got another surprise. His daughter and granddaughter presented him with a bag of Life Savers candy and asked him if they reminded him of anything. Johnson said, "The guy who saved me," and at that moment Jay Anderson joined the party.
"That was really nice," Johnson said. "He came all the way here from Wisconsin."
To re-enact his accident for the Outdoor Life Network. Johnson got into the pool at the AmericInn in Brainerd.
"At first I didn't want to do it," Johnson said. "But after talking to the wife and kids they said, 'Go ahead,' and I did it."
Except for the annual Jaycees ice fishing contest, Johnson is done with ice fishing. His wife made him sell his fish house.
"I sure miss it," Johnson said. "But I'm still here. I'm so thankful for every day now. It's great to be alive."
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