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Man drowns after fall into icy St. Louis River


November 29, 2019

Cloquet Area Fire District

Rescue crews in waterproof rescue suits tend to two remotely operated vehicles in the icy waters of the St. Louis River very early Saturday during a search for a Scanlon man who had fallen through the ice and disappeared. Working together, crews from the St. Louis County Rescue Squad and Cloquet Area Fire District recovered his body about 40 yards away a few hours later.

Despite the best efforts of local law enforcement and emergency personnel, a man drowned early Saturday morning after falling through the ice on the St. Louis River in Scanlon.

At approximately 1:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, local law enforcement officials had wrapped up a call to break up a large fight at the River Inn Bar & Grill, when two Cloquet police officers who were talking through the open windows of their squad cars heard a person yelling from the direction of the river.

After investigating, the officers discovered a man, later identified as 34-year-old Ryan William Hill, had fallen through the ice. Attempts to rescue him using rope lines and throw rings and a nearby boat were unsuccessful.

At the same time, people who had been leaving the bar ended up gathering on the shore to watch the rescue attempts, Randall said.

"One officer grabbed a canoe [from the campground], and tried to get that out to him. And the throw rings were too short," Randall said. "He was in the worst spot, right in the middle of the river. Too far south from the bridge and too far west and east from the shore."

Approximately 10 minutes after he was discovered, Hill went under the water and didn't

come back up.

It was a very challenging situation, Randall said, explaining there was a thin layer of ice on both sides of the river that night, which had mostly disappeared by the next day.

"We still don't know why he was out there," he said.

Cloquet Area Fire District chief Kevin Schroeder said by the time his department arrived with ice and water rescue gear, Hill was gone. CAFD has a Zodiac rapid deployment craft (RDC), an inflatable which can operate on the ice in winter, but nothing capable of underwater operations.

"Ice is never 100-percent safe, and especially river ice," Schroeder told the Pine Knot News. "The moving water creates areas where the ice may be several inches thick in one spot and others that appear to be solid but may only be an inch or less thick just feet away."

The Saint Louis County Rescue Squad brought two remotely operated vehicles that could go under the water and search for the victim. Minnesota Power was notified, and water flow was reduced at the dam upstream from the incident location.

Traffic was shut down over the Highway 61 bridge during the rescue and recovery operation. In addition to CAFD and the SLC Rescue Squad, Cloquet police were assisted by the Carlton County Sheriff's Office and the Minnesota State Patrol.

At approximately 5:45 a.m., after rescuers had searched for several hours, an ROV located Hill in about 16 feet of water and 40 feet from where he was last seen. According to the Cloquet police department, the river where Hill fell through is believed to be approximately 8 feet deep.

Hill was pronounced dead at the scene. He is survived by his wife, Ashley, and their boys, Ryley and Gavin Hill. Funeral services were Wednesday, Nov. 27, at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Cloquet. (Find Hill's obituary on Page 8 of this week's paper.)

Randall said the case is still under investigation, explaining Tuesday that they still don't know why Hill was on the river. They are also still awaiting the results of the Medical Examiner's report, including toxicology.

In the meantime, Randall said he is working to make sure his officers are doing OK in the aftermath of the tragic situation. The interim chief explained that the CPD works with Arrowhead Critical Incident Stress Management - which is composed of a combination of mental health professionals and experienced emergency personnel - to give staff the opportunity to process and talk with professionals about what they experienced.

"This is one that will be extra tough," Randall said. "A lot of people knew him, and some went to school with him. One of my officers was actively communicating with him in the middle of river and helplessly watched him go under.

"We see a lot of ugly situations, but it's usually after the fact," Randall added, noting that he will be following up and monitoring the officers who were involved. "To see something like this play out, it intensifies the experience even more."


Ice still unsafe

Last week the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issued a warning to residents that ice was (and is) still in the early stages of forming on waterways across Minnesota. It’s not safe to be out on it; there is a very real risk of falling through or being caught on a sheet that separates from shore.

Recent snowfall means ice creation is slowed even more.

DNR officials said it will take another several consecutive days of below-freezing temperatures before enough solid ice has formed to support foot traffic, and even longer before all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles should be on the ice.

River ice takes longer than lakes and ponds to freeze, and even then can freeze unevenly, as Schroeder noted before.

Find ice safety guidelines and minimum ice thickness guidelines at


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