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Both bodies recovered and identified after two men fell through ice on Van Zandt pond

The bodies of two Deming men who died Tuesday night after falling through the ice covering a pond on private property near Van Zandt have both been recovered.

The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office identified the two men as 73-year-old Gerald Bajema and 49-year-old Tyler Takita, according to a press release.

Only Bajema’s body was recovered before search efforts were temporarily called off Tuesday night, Whatcom County Fire District 1 Chief Mel Blankers told The Bellingham Herald.

“We went back out there with the Sheriff’s Office and their Search and Rescue team today,” Blankers told The Herald Monday. “They put their divers in the water near one of the markers we left last night to mark where they thought he might be, and within a couple of minutes they located him.”

According to a press release, Takita was located at approximately 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.

According to PulsePoint, fire crews From Whatcom County Fire Districts 1, 16 and 18, South Whatcom Fire Authority and Medic One were called to the 4100 block of Linnell Road at 5:52 p.m. for the report of a water rescue.

Blankers said the tragedy began after the two dogs fell through the ice into the pond.

Bajema attempted to rescue the dogs, using a small ladder to distribute his weight.

“Unfortunately, that ladder wasn’t big enough — I’m not sure you could have gotten a big enough ladder,” Blankers said. “The ice was pretty thin. ... We were able to just pull the boats through the ice, and it kind of broke off in chunks.”

Blankers estimated the ice was only 2 inches thick at the most, and parts of the pond that saw more sunlight were free of ice.

Once Bajema went in, Takita jumped in and attempted to rescue him, Blankers said. Takita made his way almost to the middle of the pond, but he also eventually broke through and went under the ice.

Blankers said he believes somebody from the nearby house called 911 to report the incident, but the pond was “pretty quiet” by the time the first responders arrived. The first on scene used a paddle boat and tools to begin breaking the ice and aid the search.

As more crews began responding from around the county, Blankers said they were able to get two boats on the pond to search for the victims.

“We had a lot of people out there and a lot of tools,” Blankers said.

The body of one of the dogs also was found Tuesday night.

“Somehow, one of the two dogs was able to get itself out,” Blankers said. “I really don’t know how that happened.”

Support Officer Community Crisis Care Executive Director Kendra Cristelli said support officers were on scene both Tuesday and Wednesday to assist the victim’s families. If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help following a tragedy or trauma, go to supportofficer.org.

South Whatcom Fire Authority firefighters and members of its water rescue team conducted ice rescue drills in 2017 at Lake Louise near Sudden Valley, Wash.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.
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