Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Local man rescues fishermen from frigid reservoir

| January 19, 2006 11:00 PM

Matt Mischenko didn't catch any fish at Tiber Reservoir on Saturday, but he is being credited with a far greater accomplishment — saving the life of a fellow fisherman.

A 2003 graduate of Troy High School and an employee of Davis Surveying, Mischenko was at the lake with his fiancee, Allison Nagode, when he heard the cries of a man and two 12-year-old girls whose four-wheeler had plunged through the ice just after dark. Mischenko was about 200 yards away and couldn't see what was happening, but he headed toward the sound.

"I had an ax there on my sled, so I grabbed the ax and started running across the lake," he said. "It was pretty slick so I couldn't run really fast."

By the time he got there, the two girls had gotten out of the water and were safely back on the ice. Jesse Teague had been able to kick off her boots and swim to the edge of the ice.

"I was just so scared, I flew out of the water," she said, chalking up the feat to pure adrenaline.

Teague was able to help pull her friend, Bryce Spielman, out of the water with the help of Spielman's father, Kurt Christensen, who remained in the frigid water.

"I was feeling sorry and regretful because he tried to get me out, and I thought he was going to die," Spielman said.

Christensen, 44, had set up fishing lines before dark and was heading across the ice on the four-wheeler with the two girls when he miscalculated a turn around a 25-foot-wide opening in the ice about 100 yards from the shore. The machine glided into the water and floated only a moment before sinking, sending all three occupants into the lake.

Four different times Christensen struggled to the surface for air, and each time, succumbed to the weight of his boots as they filled with water.

"I was done," he said. "I tried to swim up as hard as I could, but I couldn't. I could feel the weight of my boots. It was incredible."

When Mischenko arrived, he could tell Christensen didn't have much time left.

"I could see him in the water still and he was sinking, because he had no way of swimming," Mischenko said.

Mischenko bellied down on the ice and put the ax in the water for Christensen to grab onto. He was able to pull Christensen partly out of the water, but he didn't have the leverage to get him all the way out.

"It kept pulling me almost into the water," Mischenko said.

Soon, more help arrived, including a man with a rope. Mischenko was able to get the rope around Christensen and help pull him to safety.

"I scooted back from the edge a little bit and started pulling, and he started kicking, and I got him up onto the ice," Mischenko said.

Along with Nagode, who is a nurse's assistant, and another man with outdoor survival training, Mischenko helped get Christensen and the girls warm and dry.

"The closest hospital was a long way away," Mischenko said. "It was probably 40 miles."

Christensen's wife, Mary Jo, said she knows the outcome could have been much worse.

"We couldn't be more lucky," she said. "(The rescuers) didn't think of themselves. They just ran to save us. They are our heroes."

"It makes you damn proud to be a Montanan because these people came out of the woodwork to help," Christensen said. "I can't thank them enough."

Reporter Chelsi Moy of the Great Falls Tribune contributed to this story.