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An aviation student from northern Minnesota found a creative way to propose to his girlfriend — he used an airplane and a frozen lake.

Gavin Becker took Olivia Toft out for a joy ride in a Cessna four-seater on Sunday as a Christmas gift. When the couple flew over Eighth Crow Wing Lake, where Becker’s parents own a resort near Park Rapids, Toft spotted a message: MARRY ME, carved in capital letters in the snow below, just above a heart.

The plane approached the message from the side, but Toft could still read what it said.

“Oh my,” Becker remembers her saying before glancing at him and turning back to look at it again.

“She saw it a little early and I think it kind of shocked both of us,” Becker said. “I thought: ‘Well, I better get the ring out now.’ I was fumbling around in my pocket.”

Becker cut short his planned speech to pop the question: “So will you marry me?”

Toft said “Yes.”

Though Becker is known for being independent, he had some help in dreaming up and executing the idea. His parents, sister and her boyfriend measured out the 25-foot tall letters in the snow and carved the message down to the ice with help from a snowblower.

“We kind of usually do things kind of big in my family, I guess. We try to come up with these master plans,” Becker said, adding that the plans don’t always work. “I’m a pilot, so it kind of seemed like it would fit pretty well.”

Becker, 20, is set to graduate this spring from the University of North Dakota and plans to become a commercial airline pilot. Toft, 21, graduated in December from Moorhead State University with a degree in social work. The two have been dating for 5 ½ years.

The lofty proposal took place above the same lake where Becker’s parents, Ed and Sara Becker, got engaged on a boat decades ago. Gavin originally planned it for New Year’s Eve, but he and Olivia both got strep throat. Then, Mother Nature foiled his plans on Saturday, when low temperatures killed the battery of the plane he planned to rent.

No matter. When the couple finally got up in the air, Toft was surprised.

“I was pretty certain that we would end up together,” she said. “But I wasn’t expecting it to happen this weekend or anything like that.”

Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102