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  www.wunderground.com/, 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. 

 

 

Reports from the 2013 season:

Grandmothers Bay, Saskatchewan Novermber 12, 2013

Part of Otter Lake and all of Grandmother Bay

On November 12, 2013, a 66 year old, respected Grandmother Bay elder called emergency services after his snowmobile broke through the ice on Grandmothers Bay on Otter Lake in northern Saskatchewan.  He was not found at the time.  His body was found and recovered with the use of a remotely operated vehicle  on February 8, 2014.   

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Prescott IA, November 30, 2013 

This is most likely the pond where two brothers perished. 

Two brothers, 11 and 9, fell through thin  ice.   The ice was 2.5-3" near shore but was much thinner and weaker where the boys fell through near the middle of the pond.  Rescue divers could punch through the thin ice with their fist (indicating the ice had thaw weakened). 

It looks like the ice may have come in about a week before the accident.  From the report it may have formed in two stages with the second stage as late as 4 days before the accident.  The day before the accident reached 41 in Creston and it reached 51 the day of the accident.  The day of the accident was clear and the previous week had been mostly sunny.   

More on Kids and Ice

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Tulsa OK, December 7, 2013

A 6 year old boy who was playing with his 12 year old brother on Joe Creek, fell through and was swept down stream under 1" ice.  He was under the ice for about 30 minutes while his brother, bystanders and rescue personnel frantically broke the ice in waist deep water to recover the boy.  

The temperature over the week before the accident (from www.wunderground.com/).

These temperatures suggest that the ice formed the night before the accident. Tulsa is well out of what we think of as the 'ice belt' however this is an example that ice can form any place that gets an occasional cold snap.  It can form and get thick enough to be hazard to kids in a single night.   (Click here for more on kids and ice). 

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Elba WI, December 15, 2013

The Crawfish River next to county route BB, near Elba WI

A woman (24) was second in a line of 6 sleds.  She hit a patch of open water and diverted into a tree along the river. She was killed in the crash.  Her BAC was 0.07%.  Inexperience and speed were also listed as contributing factors.    The #3 person in the line jumped off his sled, slid into the bank and was seriously injured. The accident occurred about 4:20 PM

The average temperature for the 11 days running up to the accident was 10 degrees however it is only mid-December and this is a free running river that is only about 100 feet wide. Any submerged obstruction (eg a fallen tree or a rapid) could create enough upwelling to to make a hole in the ice. 

 

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Montezuma IA, December 16, 2013.

The blue marker is the approximate location of the accident. 

A fisherman (age 57) riding a Polaris Ranger (about 1500 lb all-up) when he broke through on Lake Ponderosa. The ice was  reported to be two inches thick where the vehicle broke through. Temperatures were cold enough for long enough to expect that the ice was considerably thicker elsewhere on the lake.  The break through thickness for 1500 lb is about 3" (for this weight, ice should be cold and six inches thick or more to have a reasonable safety factor).  

Temperatures after December 4 were consistently cold so the ice should have grown more than 6" although regular light snow probably put a couple inches of snow on the ice.   This might have slowed growth some but it was also windy enough that the snow was probably mostly in drifts or blown off the ice. Given all that, a folded ridge is a good candidate for what created the thin ice.  There are other possibilities as well. 

 

Graphs from www.wunderground.com/

Suggestions for if you are in a vehicle like this:

  •  Be ready to save yourself (life jacket/flotation suitice claws and a throw rope with your fishing buddy). 
  • Test the ice a lot.  Have a keen eye for the subtle signs of a snowed in pressure ridge and check anything that looks even a little suspicious before crossing it. 
  • Know your lake and any persistent hazards on the ice.   
  • If the vehicle does not float or it foats inverted you are probably better off with the doors off or at least  doors open so you can make a quick escape.  

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Trego WI, December 23, 2013

 

The body of a 31 year old man was found on December 27 about half a mile from his truck, four days after he went missing.  His truck was found at the south end of Dilly Lake with frozen water up to the seat.  It looks like he broke through and died of exposure trying to get to help. The temperature dropped to -18 on the night of the 23rd.

If he knew the area, there were houses (probably seasonal) on the east side of the lake (1/3 mile from the truck).  Breaking into a camp is not ideal but it sure beats dying.   If the ice supported the truck it would have been thick enough to walk to across the lake rather than going through  the swamp on the south end of the lake.. 

Click here  for Dr Gordon Giesbrecht's Discovery Channel video on surviving overnight

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December 29, 2013 Pere Marquette River, MI

A 35 year old snomobiler, riding with a friend, in a flat open field just north of the river.  There were no trees growing on part of the embankment and it was after dark making it especially hard to see the edge of the 100 ft drop off. He drove off the edge and broke through the ice at the bottom.

This is an example of the many unexpected ways you can end up on ice.

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Davenport NY, December 30, 2013

A 74 year old man died after falling through the ice on Pine Lake.  He was walking a neighbors dogs on the Pine Lake campus of Hartwick College, as he had often done.  Tracks lead to Pine Lake where the victim was found. He drowned, most likely because of swimming incapacitation.  The dogs were found later and were returned to their owner.  It is likely that one or more dogs went on the ice.  If any dogs broke through it was not reported. 

 There was a four day warm spell a week before the event that probably removed any existing ice at that time.  It was  above freezing for two days just prior to the accident. It snowed a little on most of the cold days, keeping an insulating of snow on the ice.  There was good reason to believe the ice was likely to be weak.

This is one of several deaths during the 2014 ice season of people who attempted to rescue dogs.  The best course of action is don't give in to the strong emotional impulse to attempt a rescue: call 911.  The probability of a happy outcome for both the dog and the person is significantly better if professionals do the rescue.

More on dogs and ice. 

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Harpersfield NY, December 31, 2013

A couple (71 and 74) who were reported missing were found, along with their family dog near a large hole in the ice of a frozen pond in their back yard.  The weather and ice was similar to the December 30, 2013 Davenport NY accident.  

The wrenching situation facing a pet owner when a pet has fallen through the ice leads to many poor decisions and subsequent fatalities.  If you live in the ice belt, you and your pet will be better served if you think this situation through well ahead of time so, if it ever happens, you can implement your previously made plan rather than giving into emotion and impulse.

More on dogs and ice

 

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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  www.wunderground.com/, 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. 

 

 

 

Fatalities on North American Ice-March and April 2014
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A 12 year old boy walked onto an ice covered pond.  He fell through thin ice and drowned. He was an avid outdoor explorer and knew the area well.  His dad had spoken with him about the dangers of ice.  
Temperature and wind data for 11 days before the accident (from www.wunderground.com/)

The temperatures for the week before the accident were mostly below freezing.  The pictures in the news reports combined with the  wind and temperatures suggest that different parts of the lake caught at different times.  The ice with snow on it may have caught around Feb 26.  The bare ice may have caught as late as the night before the accident. At the cold temperatures of that night, ice can grow about an inch in 7 hours once a thin ice sheet forms.
This is an example of why ice formation is often complicated and why Gordon Giesbrecht's advice is spot on:  Stay off the ice or prepare to go through.  No one should be on ice without a lifejacket, a test pole,  ice claws, and a friend.  
Click here for more about ice and kids...
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A 56 year old man was riding at speed across Spider Lake at around 10:30 PM when he hit a rough area and was ejected from his sled. He did not survive.  His BAC was 0.14%.
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A woman (64) was walking her dogs in a park along the partially frozen Hudson River.  The temperature that day reached 54 degrees and the ice only extended about 50 feet into the river.  It was described as being two inches thick.   The dogs went  on the ice and  broke through.  The woman followed and also fell through.  She died and the dogs survived.
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A 57 year old man was riding his snowmobile at speed at about 2AM on an ice covered lake.  He lost control of the sled and was killed.  Speed and alcohol were listed at causes of the accident  
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The blue marker is on Mud Pond
(Graphs from www.wunderground.com/)
A 43 year old fisherman fell through thawed ice on Mud Lake.  The temperature had been above  freezing for four days and it had been windy for about half of that time. There were eight other days with an average temperature well above freezing earlier in the month.   
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A 45 year old man was working on a pump in a small pond which was partially or completely ice covered  when he slipped and fell in.  The peak temperature the day of the accident was 52 deg and the previous four days had never dropped below freezing and averaged about 41 degrees so the ice was probably pretty rotten. He ended up under the ice and was recovered by emergency personnel. 
Speculatively: When he slipped, he could easily have landed on the steeply sloped, slippery, mud under the water at the edge of the pond and ended up being directed to under the ice.  If he was standing a foot or two above the pond level he would have plenty of momentum for this to happen. 
 
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A 43 year old man stepped through well thawed ice at Sunset Pond Park,  about 15-10 feet from shore.   He was found face down.  Rescue was able to get there in four minutes and had the man back on shore in three more minutes.  He later died in the hospital. 
 The ice in the area of the pond where the accident took place largely went out by late on the next day.   
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Lake Sunapee NH, April 6, 2014

A 56 year old, very experienced kite sailor went sailing with 30 of his friends on Lake Sunapee on their last big outing for the 2014 ice season.  Early in the tour he flew his kite to the ice and laid down.  His friends came quickly, assessed the situation,  performed CPR, called 911 and contacted his wife.  He had a heart attack and passed away.  It turns out the man and wife were aware of this possibility and that they were glad he was able to be something he loved when he passed on.  After things settled down, the tour was continued in his honor.