'I couldn't feel my legs': Prior Lake teens survive after snowmobile breaks through lake ice

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Two teens from Prior Lake narrowly survived after their snowmobile broke through the ice and plunged into a Minnesota lake last week.

One of those teens is sharing her story in hopes others won’t make the same potentially deadly mistakes this winter. 

“It felt like it went in slow motion, but I know it was really fast,” said Mary O’Neil.

O’Neil had never been on a snowmobile until last Thursday night when her 16-year-old friend offered to take her. The two went cruising through Cleary Lake Regional Park in Scott County completely unaware there is an aeration system on the lake helping keep fish alive. That meant they were heading toward open water.

“We got to the part, right to the edge of it where all of it cracked and all of it fell straight to the bottom,” said O’Neil. “At this point, we were kind of in the middle of the lake.”

O’Neil says she started to panic, but credits her friend, who was able to get out more easily, with keeping her calm enough to save herself. 

“When the ice kept breaking, I was like, ‘I’m going to die if I can’t get out of the water. I have so much clothing on,’" said O’Neil. “I couldn’t feel my legs, so I just had to pull with all my upper body strength to get out of the ice.”

After crawling to safer ice, the teens had few options about where to go because there aren't any houses on the lake. They made it to a visitor center minutes before the doors to a restroom locked and the lights turned off. Inside, they used hand dryers to warm up from the windchill conditions of 23 below zero that night and dry a cell phone enough to use Siri to call a sibling for help.

“I just couldn’t stop thinking about losing her,” said Jane O’Neil, Mary’s mother.

 After many sleepless nights, Jane O’Neil points out the teens should have called 911. The Scott County Sheriff says at most the teens could receive trespassing citations because snowmobiling is not allowed in the regional park. The sheriff adds the most important thing is both teens survived. 

Mary O’Neil's biggest takeaway learned from her first snowmobiling experience is know the area where you plan to ride and especially know the lake.

“There were a lot of things that happened that were really fortunate for the situation,” she said.

FOX 9 reached out to the 16-year-old snowmobile driver and while they opted not to be part of the story, they are thankful word is getting out and hope other snowmobilers will be more careful and not make the same mistakes.