Man Pulled From Icy Lake Thanks Rescuers: ‘I thought I was going to die’

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- An Indianola man had a brush with death over the weekend after falling through the ice at Lake Ahquabi. Wildlife photographer Rick Rauzi was snowshoeing and taking pictures of geese Sunday morning when the ice gave way.

“It was not a slow sink. I went down instantaneously, and came up and had my initial extreme panic,” said the 58-year-old.

Once the initial panic passed, he began calling for help. It took 20 minutes for two nearby fishermen to hear his cries. By then, Rauzi couldn’t feel his hands and he was starting to feel drowsy. Doctors told him his core temperature went down to 80 degrees and he was suffering from extreme hypothermia.

freezing water

Lake Ahquabi

“I thought I was going to die. Not be melodramatic, but I said goodbye to my wife, said goodbye to my kids,” said Rauzi.

Jesse Bannor, of Des Moines, and Damian Bell, of Pleasant Hill, made sure he didn’t have to say goodbye. The pair used a canoe to get close enough to Rauzi to throw him a rope. But at first, Rauzi didn't want to grab on.

“I was afraid to let go of the ice because I’d gone down twice. I slipped off twice and went down over my head and the last time I did it. If I did it again, I didn’t think I’d be able to come up,” he said.

But he did, and Bell and Bannor kept Rauzi afloat until Indianola firefighters arrived.

“The fire and rescue guys grabbed me by my coat and flipped me into the canoe. They said, 'You're safe,' and then I passed out," he said.

Rauzi was released from the hospital Tuesday. He still can’t feel the tips of his fingers, and his arms and legs are banged up, but he said doctors are amazed at how well he’s doing after being in freezing water for 30 minutes.

He hopes to meet his new heroes soon -- the men who risked their lives to save his.

"They saved my life. I'm humbled  ... really humbled," Rauzi said. “No greater love a man has than to give his life for somebody. That's what they did. Thank you.”

Once he’s fully healed, Rauzi plans to return to his favorite pastime, but on solid ground.

“I gave my wife my solemn vow that I would not go on the ice again,” he said.

Indianola firefighters say they haven't’ had a water rescue like this in more than five years. The department credits Bannor and Bell as the ones who saved Rauzi’s life.