Dive team brings Sno-cat out of lake after 2019 tragedy

The Sno-Cat that plunged through the ice of Island Lake in 2019, killing the two men aboard, is hauled ashore Tuesday, after a volunteer dive team succeeded in bringing it to the surface.

Volunteers on a second attempt raised from Island Lake the Sno-Cat that in 2019 carried two Delta County men to their deaths when it went through the ice.

“Our goal is to, for one, remove the Sno-Cat for the benefit of the environment and in addition, so that neither the Forest Service nor the families, nor anybody has a trickle-down deal over this,” Jared Leisek, the founder of the volunteer dive organization Adventures With Purpose, said Wednesday. “The families have enough they have to deal with.”

Adventures With Purpose brought the 15,000-pound machine up from the bottom of the lake on Tuesday, after an earlier attempt this year was unsuccessful.

The Sno-Cat fell through the ice in February 2019, killing Ryan Wells and Ricky Colton. The two friends had been staying at the nearby Grand Mesa Lodge. When the lodge owner could not find them the following morning, he contacted authorities who discovered a gaping hole in the ice about 150 yards from shore. The men’s bodies were recovered with assistance from the Summit County Sheriff’s Office remote-operated vehicle.

Getting the Sno-Cat raised to the surface and hauled ashore took more than a year.

In June, Leisek’s team came and attempted to raise the machine from the lake floor using lift bags, but it was not possible to keep air flowing fast enough as the bags began to leak.

This week, Adventures With Purpose returned with custom, open-bottomed float bags. Dive teams contended with a shallower lake, as well.

“The good news is it was 10 feet shallower this time,” Leisek said — although the volunteer team still operated in a high-mountain lake.

With the previous bags, the team had to try to raise the machine in 25-foot sections at a time and because of the elevation, this was equivalent to a 100-foot dive. With the custom bags providing 25,000 pounds of lift, the team was able to go all the way to the Sno-Cat and stay for a minimal amount of time — a “blow and go,” Leisek said.

“That allowed us to cut out a lot of extra time. We would have had to have staged lifts (without the custom bags),” he said.

Once the machine was up, Wells’ father, Tom, used his wrecker to pull it ashore, Leisek said, calling Tom’s work integral to the efforts.

“We didn’t want to leave the Sno-Cat as one of those unaccomplished tasks in our life,” Leisek said, acknowledging some in the community had debated whether to raise it from the lake.

His team was happy to return, he said, with members coming in at their own expense, some from as far away as Missouri and Washington state.

The operation costs themselves were covered pro-bono, which is possible because of the ad revenue Adventures With Purpose’s YouTube and Facebook pages bring in.

On top of that, locals chipped in, with the lodge owner donating cabins, a business owner lending his pontoon boat, and other efforts.

Leisek said the Sno-Cat is being restored to be used in future Adventures With Purpose search and rescue missions.

Delta County Sheriff Mark Taylor welcomed word that the Sno-Cat was out of the lake. “I hope it gives the families some closure,” he said.

Leisek remembered the victims, Wells and Colton.

“These were good men,” he said. “This could have happened to anybody and unfortunately, the community lost two good men who were also fathers. It’s a sad loss for everybody.”

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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