Summary of Fatalities on North American Ice Duting the 2014 Ice Season

Based on a review of news articles on the www at least 50 people died on North American lake and river ice during the 2014 ice season.   This summary report compares different factors that contributed to the accidents and compares them with data from last year and other historic data. 

The report avoids judging the victims.  Many of us who have been on ice for a while have done things that, with the benefit of hindsight, tell us that we were very lucky.  For the most part, the accidents reported here happened those of us who were not lucky.  This report is an effort to learn from their misfortune. 

The report looks at a wider range of accidents in the 2014 season than it did in 2013.  In particular, 16 died because of the presence of ice on a lake or river.  Most of these accidents were nighttime, snowmobile crashes. The riders  were on the ice because it offered a large, relatively flat area where they could ride impaired and at high speed with little risk of being arrested.  

There are five pages of individual reports which have summaries of each accident.  Data was gathered from, google maps, MODIS satellite images and the news reports.   

 Blue=November/December, Red=January, Yellow=February,Green=March/April/May

Single fatality near Nome AK in January

Main Conclusions:

  • It was a cold winter. This resulted in significantly fewer deaths from breakthroughs.   
  • The cold snaps reaching into southern states led to 5 deaths. Four of them were kids under 14. Three of them fell through ice that probably had come in the night before the accident. It is a rare ice sheet that does not need at least another day to get thick enough.  
  • Most people who break through the ice or fall into open water drown before hypothermia stops their heart.  Last year 52 people drowned, this year it was 31.  This probably was a result of a colder winter. 
  • Standard ice safety equipment (ice claws, test pole/drill, life jacket, throw rope,. buddy) would probably have saved the day for most of the breakthrough victims.  Fishermen and a few others were the only people that you could reasonably expected to carry that equipment.  Unfortunately they only make up about 1/4 of the breakthrough victims.   

This data suggests that the cold winter in 2014 resulted in significantly fewer drownings as a result of less dodgy ice.  The data also suggests (with less certainty) that more people chose to ride their sleds, fast, at night, while impaired. 



Mode of travel at the time of the accident for 2014.  In 2013 about half the accidents were on foot. This suggests that cold winters are likely to have fewer vehicle breakthroughs. 


The 'age 50+' group continues to be just a little less than half of the total. 




Links to individual accident reports:

November, December 2013

January 1-19, 2014

January 20-31, 2014

February 2014

March, April 2014