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Thousands take polar bear plunge in Chesapeake Bay

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January 29, 2012 07:02 AM EST | AP

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Thousands of people clad in bathing trunks, bikinis and even some woolly winter hats have taken the Polar Bear Plunge into the Chesapeake Bay for charity.

The surging mass of bathers whooped and hollered as they dashed into the chill winter waters, monitored by safety divers in wetsuits just offshore at Sandy Point State Park in Maryland.

Some participants spent mere seconds in the water, leaving behind sandals and floppy beach hats in the rush to get out just as fast as they got in. Some wore costumes, one like "Star Wars" character Darth Vader.

Saturday's was the 16th annual Polar Bear Plunge at the park, benefiting Special Olympics Maryland. Last year's plunge raised nearly $3 million, but there was no immediate word on the amount raised this year.