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Victims recovered from icy pond identified

VAN ZANDT, Wash. – Two men died after a winter weather related tragedy in the North Sound.

Both victims are from the Deming area, according to officials. The first man was recovered from the pond Tuesday evening and the second victim was pulled from the water by Wednesday morning.

The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office identified the victims as 49-year-old Tyler Takita and 73-year-old Gerald Bajema. Investigators said both were trying to save a pair of dogs that had fallen through a private ice-covered pond – but they fell through the ice and died.

It’s an incident that doesn’t happen very often in our area, say officials, but search-and-rescue teams warn the threat continues in some parts of our area until temperatures rise.

“It is deceiving because there are spots in some of these ponds where the ice is a few inches thick,” said Deputy Mark Jilk. “You could have a couple spots where it’s safe, but right next to it there could be literally nothing.”

That’s exactly the scenario deputy Jilk says happened when Bajema and Takita tried saving a pair of dogs that fell into the pond along Linnell Road.

Search and rescue teams were called to the rural neighborhood Tuesday evening where witnesses told deputies one man first fell into the ice then the other tried to rescue his friend, but he too fell in. By the time first responders arrived one dog had been able to crawl out but both men had not resurfaced.

“It’s a terrible tragedy,” said Jilk. “I think things spun out of control before people could really think about what was going on and now people are stuck with lives changed forever because of that.”

While most of the snow in the area has melted, cold temperatures mean icy ponds across the county could remain a threat. Officials are urging everyone to steer clear of icy ponds advise people to call 911 for help instead of trying to take matters into their own hands.

In many areas the water’s temperature is so cold the likelihood of survival is slim.

“The body sometimes has a reaction almost immediately,” said Jilk. “It takes just a second just to take in water and once you take that in you don’t recover.”

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