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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LETTER FROM VLADIVOSTOK: Ice-Anglers Be Warned: Minivans Do Not Float




In a northern suburb of Vladivostok, next to a forlorn little amusement park where carnival music blares over the empty skating rink even on the bitterest of days, the Sanatornaya Rescue Station overlooks the frozen Sea of Japan.


Beside the station is a battered hydrofoil that periodically roars off across the sea to rescue fishermen who have gone through the ice.


You might think that there would be little such work at this time of the year for the crew of Vladimir Kiselyov, a craggy station chief with Brezhnevian eyebrows and an oversized fur hat. The weather has been below zero for months, and the ice is up to 50 centimeters thick. But Kiselyov is a bitter man. He is still pulling fishermen from the water because some louts insist on driving to their favorite fishing spots.


Since the start of the year, 12 cars have gone through, and one driver drowned. In fact, the sea floor is littered with the hulks of old Toyotas and Hondas and Nissans, both cars and minivans. Although the rescue station can earn a little extra money raising sunken cars for hapless fishermen, Kiselyov is enraged that he has to do so in the first place.


"We are amazed at the problem ourselves," Kiselyov puzzles. "Do these people have any brains at all? Every time [we rescue someone], I ask the drivers why they do that. This guy whose car we lifted yesterday gave me the most stupid answer possible. He said he saw fishermen on the ice, and he wanted to ask them how the fishing was going. So he drove toward them. But they were sitting on thinner ice, so his car sank."


"Luckily," Kiselyov adds with what I imagine to be the faintest twinge of regret, "he managed to jump out."


I have long been fascinated by the ice fishermen I watch from my apartment window. I feel a comradely sense of recognition (fellow fanatics!) when I get up at 5:30 a.m. to scratch out a few lines of fiction, and see that the ice fishermen are already out there, their headlights exploring the ice.


But the rescuers are unmoved by such romanticism. Every fall, they rescue dolts who venture out on the half-frozen sea. In the winter, they might pull out a truck after a rear wheel crunches through during a shortcut across the bay. And every spring, a pod or two of ice fishermen drift off on an ice floe.


Station rescuer Konstantin Mikhailyuk says: "It is useless to try to convince them that it is dangerous. I wish I could take a stick and drive them off of the ice. They are like cockroaches that have found a piece of bread."


If, say, an unpaid worker needs food for his family, I'm glad the sea can sustain him. But the Sanatornaya rescuers might bellow in frustration, Can't you leave the minivan on solid ground?